Who's a better mascot for 4G: Vodafone's Pug or the Airtel Girl?

By Ashee Sharma , afaqs!, New Delhi | In Advertising | March 28, 2016
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Vodafone is back with Pug Cheeka to promote its 4G network Vodafone SuperNet. Will it be able to create a recall for the brand similar to what the Airtel Girl has? We try and evaluate the cuteness and pesky quotient of the brand mascots.

The Vodafone Pug Cheeka is back, and the Airtel Girl -- well, she never disappeared. Since the launch of the Airtel 4G Challenge last August, Airtel Girl Sasha Chettri has become synonymous with the brand and its 4G service. She's present everywhere -- from television and print to outdoor and online, reminding people to not forget the service...and her!

With the Airtel Girl being so dangerously top-of-mind when it comes to 4G, it is important for other players entering the space to not only differentiate themselves, but to also break the almost hegemonic recall Chettri has created for the service. So, it was no surprise that Vodafone brought back Cheeka, the adorable Pug, to promote its 4G network - Vodafone SuperNet - launched earlier this month. Cheeka made its first appearance in the 'You & I' campaign (created by O&M Mumbai) for Hutchinson Essar's (now Vodafone) cellular service in India.

The Pug rides a truck in Vodafone SuperNet teaser

Airtel 4G's latest campaign

As seen in Airtel's most recent campaign, Chettri is currently in a mode where she is trying to escape 4G and is somewhat apologetic about her intrusive character. One of our respondents, Kiran Khalap pointed out that this could be Airtel's response to being voted the 'most hated brand' according to 'The Goonj India Index 2015' (a study on brand popularity) by Goonj Labs, the reason being the campaign, which was perceived to be 'nagging', as well as the brand's failure to deliver quality services.

While the Pug has been one of Vodafone's most successful mascots, in addition to the ZooZoos of course, it remains to be seen how the brand will use it to promote SuperNet. After all, the difference between memorable and meddlesome is subtle. Meanwhile, we asked some experts to opine on the two 4G ambassadors; are they cute or irritating, adorable or intrusive. Or something else...

Sambit Mohanty, creative head - North, DDB Mudra

Sambit Mohanty

Hands down, the Pug beats the Airtel Girl on the cuteness quotient. Why? Because we humans are more fond of dogs than, well, others of our own race! That apart, the Airtel Girl also comes across as immensely irritating. She's constantly in your face, trying to push a product. And, not just the viewer's face, but also that of the people she encounters within the ads. In real life, if one had a friend like her she'd be persona non grata in no time at all. She's like an incessantly buzzing fly you badly want to swat...because it refuses to buzz off! In short, the girl is far more bugging than the Pug -- an endearing creature one can't get enough of. Chhetri symbolises the push factor while the Pug is symbolic of the pull.

That said, both brands have used these mascots well to drive home the message about what's on offer. It's just that everything has an expiry date and brands (read: brand managers) would do well to recognise the same. The latest attempt by Vodafone to use the Pug seems very vapid. One yearns for the good old days when the dog played a more active role rather than just a cameo. Overkill is a dangerous thing.

Kawal Shoor, co-founder - The Womb, and former national planning director, Ogilvy India

Kawal Shoor

There's an old saying about the movies -- you can't fight an animal or a child when it comes to appeal. The Vodafone Pug is an old master, and the Airtel Girl is barely out of her teens, so to speak. So, it isn't a tough fight yet. And technically, there's a difference between the two. The Pug is now sort of a mascot, but his journey started as a metaphor for network. While the Airtel Girl is...poor her... having to do many things -- be a brochure reader, charmer, mascot, 4G peddler...all rolled into one.

It is the way characters get used that makes them irritating or cute, not how they actually are. Remember Beauty and the Beast? In this case, both are cute, but, I feel, the girl has not been allowed to let her cuteness out. She's been made to relentlessly hard sell, which makes her sometimes appear to be irritating.

On what works better -- cute or irritating? The answer is obvious -- cute. But, then again, we should think deeply about what people mean by 'works'. Some campaigns can be cutely benign, while others can be annoyingly brilliant. I have a feeling that up-country youth will pause to hear what the attractive girl has to say, while the huffing Pug, in sync with rhythm and beats, just sort of struggles to announce the launch of Vodafone 4G. With the girl (however averagely used) there is at least something new. The Pug reveals lack of freshness. A new, young, well-fed Pug can't fill in for that!

The larger question is this -- how are any of the players positioning 4G, as compared to 3G/2G? I'm afraid the only change I see is in the change of the numeric. It's an opportunity missed.

Kiran Khalap, co-founder and managing director, Chlorophyll Brand and Communications Consultancy

Kiran Khalap

I don't 'like' or 'dislike' campaigns, but I were to give a thought to what may have led to them, the comparison is not between cute or irritating. It is probably between what the objective is and how well the creative is aligned to it. So long as the target segment has 'reacted' rather than just noticed the communication, at least one third of the objective has been achieved.

'The widest network' and 'World's largest network' are unique claims in themselves, but as a consumer, I will wait to understand the tangible dimensions: How much faster is 4G really; how much more do I pay? Do I need width of network in remote areas or do I actually want to be cut off?

Both brands are right in building on the memorability of their best mascots, but the difference in market share will be decided by on-ground delivery. Airtel seems to be converting its weakness into strength. It was voted the 'most hated brand' as per 'The Goonj India Index 2015' apparently because the communication was ubiquitous without the service living up to its promise. The brand's new TVCs actually poke fun at Chettri's overbearing presence on television.

But, we need to wait and watch how Vodafone builds on the likeability of its Pug. At this stage, the comparison is not between equals. Airtel has a full campaign on, Vodafone has just finished teasers. However, I have a personal problem with the use of the Pug as a breed, as it ends up as cruelty to the species.

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