Vodafone is back with its ZooZoos. These white creatures with ballooned bodies and egg heads first appeared in a Vodafone campaign during IPL 2. It is now going to be IPL 11. So the ZooZoos, conceptualised by ad agency Ogilvy and Mather, are now 10 years old. Time flies!
This time around the ZooZoos are here to convey how Vodafone is ‘happy to help’ its customers with a click of a button. A ZooZoo is shown gifting a phone to its partner. The partner sees the sim-less phone and is somewhat disappointed. The ZooZoo reaches for the ‘help’ button on the old phone. Cut to a scene of ZooZoos exercising. They halt the exercise on seeing the help signal from the couple. They put on their ‘ninja’ avatars and fly out to the couple’s rescue with a new sim. Happiness happens.
Simple script. Simple execution. Simple messaging. Simple promise. Simple delivery.
That really has been the beauty of the ZooZoos campaign for so many years. Vodafone and Ogilvy have kept the idea of the ZooZoos visually powerful, bringing in very many different messages over the years, but without compromising the creative identity and purity of the concept. The ZooZoos have remained flexible and adaptive, taking on different roles in different contexts without losing their own individuality. So the brand new Ninja avatars of this year are just the continuation of a good idea. Only this year they are supposed to represent the quick, agile and efficient service experience of the digital transformation initiatives at Vodafone India.
Some would say ZooZoos are tending to become old wine in a new bottle with every passing year. They may well be right. But then longevity is the biggest virtue of campaigns with long legs, and big ideas. Take Amul, for example. The same look, feel, execution and characters for 50 years now. Just the message created afresh every time. But in the same mould, same broad frame. ZooZoos are kind of the same. Old, yet new. New, yet old.
Not very many people, including advertising professionals, however know that the ZooZoos are not really an original idea of Ogilvy. They are actually ‘inspired’ by ‘Docomodake’ a family of mascots in the likeness of mushrooms and one of Japan’s leading pop cartoon characters, introduced in 2005 by Japanese telecom company, NTT DoCoMo, and designed by their ad agency, Dentsu, my former joint venture partners. The unlikely company mascots were introduced when NTT DoCoMo launched a service allowing unused monthly time to be carried over or shared among family members.
The mushroom family was conceived to emphasize that DoCoMo was the only mobile operator offering the service, because in Japanese dake means both ‘only’ and ‘mushroom’. Today the smiling mascots have literally mushroomed into ubiquitous symbols of happiness. Docomodake appear everywhere in Japan, used widely as mobile phone accessories, phone-games and picture-book heroes, stuffed toys and much more. In fact, so versatile is the Docomodake franchise that sixteen up-and-coming Japanese painters, fashion designers, illustrators and artists were invited recently to express their interpretations of ‘mushroom cuisine’ at a big event in Tokyo.
It is here that Vodafone has fallen short of full exploitation of the ZooZoos idea. They have not been able to take the ZooZoos from out of advertising into the popular local culture. Sure, you do see some animated ZooZoos on TV at cricket games sitting and cheering amongst the spectators but the ZooZoos idea could have been taken much further into merchandising and public events that would have enhanced the brand connect with Vodafone even more. For now, ZooZoos remain a seasonal IPL offering from Vodafone. Dusted and re-presented every year. But they still remain ‘reel’ characters, and unlike the Docomodake originals have not become ‘real’. Pity!
(Sandeep Goyal is an advertising veteran. He has worked at leading ad agencies like JWT, Grey, DDB, Rediffusion & Dentsu for over 30 years)