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The magic of the Zoozoos

By Madhukar Sabnavis
June 05, 2009 14:41 IST
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It had Big Brother indoctrinating people in an auditorium when a woman athlete comes running in and hits the screen with a hammer. The commercial ends with the line '1984 will not be 1984 ever again' (a reference to George Orwell's famous book of the same name).

Apple announced to the world it was breaking the hegemony of mainframes -- the dominance of IBM! To invest and make a commercial to be run on media only once was both revolutionary and braveĀ…but Apple is iconic for its bravery and its category-re-defining work.

The tenth anniversary of this commercial in 1994 was celebrated with millions of column centimetres of business editorials saluting the event and the advertising; wait for similar 'talkability' later this year as the Apple 1984 commercial celebrates its silver jubilee.

The ad was more than an ad or a launch commercial; it was an ad that made news and makes news even today in advertising and business circles. It's become part of marketing folklore!

A few years ago, BMW commissioned seven Hollywood directors to make their versions of a BMW advertisement -- of extended length. It was estimated that $74 million of the $75 million available for the campaign was spent on production; only $1 million was used to place it on the net.

Not only was the campaign a Cannes winner, but it also became part of advertising bravery folklore by breaking the rules of media production ratios. And the impact of this campaign came more from people talking and sharing it rather than being forced to see it innumerable times.

It was 'permission' marketing at its best -- creating 'pull' for the advertisement rather than pushing it down!

Closer home, May was the month of the elections and IPL. But a third event, inadvertently, entered the fray to make news through the month -- the Vodafone Zoozoos. The cute, cuddly characters that featured in a series of 29 commercials that ran right through the IPL matches suddenly caught the imagination of the public.

Three other telecom companies ran strong brand campaigns -- in fact new commercials -- during the same period.

Airtel created two pieces of communication leveraging the chemistry of Vidya Balan and Madhavan. Idea leveraged their tie-up with the Mumbai Indians to run an interactive campaign of talking to the stars. Aircel blasted their M S Dhoni advertisement of 'aur bolo.'

Yet the animated Zoozoos became celebrities in their own rights and outdid the 'celebrity' campaigns. They popped up finally in the stands during the finals of IPL; there were lakhs of entries about them in the blogosphere and one channel actually requested their presence on May 16 to add character to their programme on election results.

The Vodafone Zoozoos were more than an advertising piece; they created buzz for themselves that increased the campaign's impact manifold!

It may seem odd to talk about the Zoozoos in the same breath as the Apple 1984 commercial or the BMW film series.

But common to all three is that, consciously or unconsciously, they were pieces of work that became talked about amongst their core audience and thus extended the power of their creativity. And this could be the future of advertising as media gets cluttered and expensive, and viewers get cynical; there is a need for advertising to be spoken about to make the brand and its messaging more impactful.

We are all familiar with the standard measures of advertising effectiveness -- memorability, message comprehension, persuasion and likeability. However, getting people to talk and discuss the advertising gives it a multiplier effect that helps to reach and impact more people than before.

In an internet-driven world where information is transactable, this could become the next important measure. Gone are the days when you could hope to reach your message to the majority of your targeted audience. It's this word-of-mouth effect that adds to the power of advertising. And creativity would be challenged not only to get noticed and remembered but also to be exciting enough to be shared.

There is an interesting yet strong sociological dimension to the endearment success of the Zoozoos. Borrowing from the cartoon world, they appeal to the child in most of us -- yet the contexts and situations in which they are placed and the services they sell are so adult and real.

Rounded edges, weird sounds yet decipherable language, and fluidity of movement add to the 'innocence of feelings' in a world that is getting more and more 'manipulative and angular' in thought.

Coincidentally, in the editorial context in which it ran -- where there was so much of not-so-nice, even ugly 'personal attacks' in the election campaigning and lots of the almost surreal energetic drama of the IPL -- the appeal of the Zoozoos lay in the simple return to 'old world charm and innocence.' Disney animation always holds a unique charm that real life storytelling can never duplicate!

Vodafone perhaps created this campaign as just pieces of communication to leverage their sponsorship of the IPL. However, the results are instructive for marketers and advertising agencies.

There is an opportunity and a growing need to maximise returns from a campaign -- and there are multiple media to engage to achieve that. While traditional 360-degree integrated communications meant using multiple media to bombard the consumers with your message, a new way of using multiple media is to develop creative content that naturally lends itself to being talked about and thus gets present in multiple media.

Finally, the fact that the Zoozoos outdid well-known celebrities this season re-confirms that advertising cut-throughs are not dependant on the use of known faces. A strong campaign can create celebrities and the Zoozoos provide Vodafone with characters that can not only become brand mascots but also be converted into merchandising that can be monetised.

In fact, that's the unique power of animated characters, eg Disney ones -- they are brands in search of products -- slap them onto anything connected especially to children and the price goes up.

Something worth thinking about.

The author is country head, discovery and planning, Ogilvy and Mather, India. The views he has expressed here are personal. He can be contacted at

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Madhukar Sabnavis
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