Vodafone: Leaving pugmarks all over

By Khushboo Tanna , afaqs!, Mumbai | In Advertising | July 21, 2009
The pug, which was on a hiatus since November 2008, has been featured again in the latest Vodafone commercials

Just when people started thinking that the pug was a thing of the past, Vodafone has resurrected its standard mnemonic to deliver yet another message.

Vodafone has released four new commercials under its 'Happy to Help' campaign, which, like the earlier 'Happy to Help' one features the trademark pug and the girl. This time around, the ads have been released to promote offerings such as Vodafone Mobilestores, Self Help, Vodafone Stores and Mini-Stores and Vodafone Self Service Kiosks.

& #BANNER1 & #The first film, called Garden, shows the pug helping the girl dig pit to plant some saplings. The second one, titled Baking, has the girl trying to read a recipe from a book and the pug helps her by trying to hold down the pages of the book. Another ad called Soap shows the girl taking a shower in a cubicle when suddenly, her soap slides out of her hand and the pug pushes the soap back in to the cubicle. The fourth ad is called Dorm and is about how the pug signals to the girl when the dorm inspector is making his daily rounds.

Ogilvy India is the agency that has worked on the campaign while the ads have been directed by Vodafone 'veteran', Prakash Verma of Nirvana Films, who is behind some of the most famous films for Hutch/Vodafone, including the recent Zoozoo attempt.

Pug v/s Zoozoo

The pug debuted in the year 2003 for Vodafone's (then Hutch's) network campaign called 'Wherever you go, our network follows'. Over the years, the pug has been used in various campaigns, including the one announcing the transition from Hutch to Vodafone. The last pug campaign was released in November 2008 for the 'Happy to Help' series.

Rajiv Rao, executive creative director, South Asia, Ogilvy India says that the pug plays a different role each time in every Vodafone campaign. "First it was about network, then it was about brand change and now it is about Vodafone's customer service," he adds.

Harit Nagpal, chief marketing officer, Vodafone India says that the pug is used once in seven to eight months and this time, the same procedure had been followed. The pug had not "gone anywhere," he maintains.

During the IPL, Vodafone had released the ads featuring eggshell characters called Zoozoos which had become quite famous. When asked why these overnight sensations were dropped in favour of the pug, Rao clarifies that while the Zoozoos are the brand's newest property (and will continue to be used for campaigns in future), they are in no way 'endorsing' the brand. "Both the Zoozoo's and the pug have a different role to play and they will be used at appropriate times and for different occasions," Rao explains. Nagpal adds that both the Zoozoos and the pug are good properties for the brand.

Take your pick

The new campaign featuring the pug almost seems to be in continuation with the 'Happy to Help' series of last year, with situations involving the pug helping the girl. For some the new ads for Vodafone might be just an extension from its previous ads, while others are willing to overlook that aspect.

Sandip Mahapatra, vice-president and head, planning, McCann Erickson says that the pug is still relevant as it is like a Vodafone signature. As a supporter of the continued use of this mnemonic, he says, "The network is a faith-based service, akin to your religious beliefs. And much like one's belief in God, one is secure that he exists somewhere." He adds that Vodafone uses the pug for two unseen factors in mobility. Chances are when put to the test, the network signal or the service delivery might prove weaker than expectation, much akin to one's faith wavering in religious matters. "The pug and the girl lull you into a belief that is irrational. And that to me has been the whole point of this body of advertising," he concludes.

Rajeev Raja, creative head, DDB Mudra, says that despite the pug having been around for many years, the little stories in the campaign continue to be engaging. "I see the pug series operating at the brand level and doing the job of maintaining and reinforcing brand values while topical communication such as Zoozoos keep the brand fresh and exciting. "

Nilesh Vaidya, creative director, Euro RSCG has a different viewpoint. He says that the earlier campaigns featuring the pug had changed the code of the entire category. "But maybe the time has come to put it to rest as its becoming a blind spot now," says Vaidya. He concludes by saying that the pug ads will work only if it is given a totally new surprising twist to the story, which, at this point, sounds unlikely.

Amar Wadhwa, planning head, Cheil Communications, says that he has been an ardent fan of Vodafone's advertising and while the brand made a brilliant transition from the pug to the Zoozoos, by reverting to the pug again, especially without changing the creative context, the communication looks jaded.

"Also, as a consumer I feel as if two different brands are talking to me: the 'pug' brand and the 'Zoozoos' brand," he says. Also he feels that unlike in the past, a couple of situations in the commercials are a bit contrived.

On the other hand, Nagpal from Vodafone feels that the pug still hasn't lost its charm and continues to garner positive responses from the audience.