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.
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
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
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
'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.