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More than cricket, Vodafone ZooZoos are what most Indians remember of the 2009 IPL season

New Delhi: It was the year Deccan Chargers, now renamed Sunrisers Hyderabad, led by Adam Gilchrist, were ruling the cricket pitch and were on their way to winning the second edition of the Indian Premier League (IPL). But the ones winning the hearts of Indian cricket fans were the ZooZoos — cute, little, egg-shaped white characters, who took over Indian television screens during the commercial breaks in between the IPL matches.

They played cricket, went on dates, pulled pranks on each other, and made funny sounds that were gibberish to the audience. But that didn’t stop them from establishing a connect with the people. Rather, the fact that they didn’t use any one language, gave them a sort of universal appeal.

The ZooZoos looked, behaved and spoke much like most of us would imagine aliens to. They were the protagonists of the Vodafone commercials of 2009 (and for several years after that). But they never directly pushed viewers to buy anything. The brand pitch — promoting a pre- or post-paid value-added service — was smartly woven into the plot of each ZooZoo video.

The characters weren’t animated when they were first introduced, but were played by people in body suits. Stickers were used to convey the required emotions.

The ZooZoos were conceptualised by advertising and marketing firm Ogilvy and Mather, and the ads were produced by Nirvana Films. The characters were first introduced in the Indian market, and though Vodafone had later announced that they would be launched globally, the ZooZoos never actually made it beyond the country’s borders.

“In the industry, we say ‘show, not tell’, which means giving out the message without actually saying anything. Vodafone had done this brilliantly with the ZooZoo ads,” said Kanak Arora, currently working on a Netflix series as an assistant editor, who remembers watching these advertisements in his growing-up years.

He added: “The makers didn’t necessarily want them to be attractive and thus only shades of white were used. It was just about communicating the message.”

The birth of the ZooZoos

The idea of the egg-shaped ZooZoos came from a character in the 1974 Doordashan advertorial, ‘Ek Anek Aur Ekta’, by the Film Division of India, said Sneha Iype, one of the creators of the ZooZoos & co-founder of Nirvana films.

Vodafone had hired Ogilvy & Mather for the campaign through which it wanted to advertise its value-added services like on-demand cricket commentary, mobile games and paid music. The then Vodafone marketing director Harit Nagpal worked with Rajiv Rao, then the national creative director of Ogilvy, and conceptualised the film.

Nirvana Films took up the challenge to make these advertisements in a “limited time”. What made the task tougher was that 30 ad films had to be made for the 30 IPL matches. Prakash Varma directed the films.

“One thing that worked for it was that it was a bunch of gutsy people who were willing to take a marketing risk,” Iype told ThePrint.

She added: “In fact Harit (Nagpal) said… you know, do a backup set of the dog films (Vodafone advertisement featuring pugs). If people find it (ZooZoo) irritating, we should go back and air the pug films. In the middle of all the tension, we had also prepared ourselves for a Plan-B.”

Costumes for the characters that Rediff termed “India’s most adorable ad icons”, were made of a material called ‘Perspex’, outside India. The shoot too happened at a foreign location — Cape Town in South Africa. One reason for filming abroad was maintaining confidentiality.

According to Iype, it was because of the lack of time that they didn’t animate the characters back then. The ZooZoos were animated for the first time in 2013, she added, when a ‘ZooZoo army’ was put together with their own song, Zumi Zumi. True to character, the lyrics were all gibberish: “Zumi Zumi… Ko Ko Zumi Zumi… Ka Ka Mazze Ho… Zumi Zumi”.

Still bringing in views

Following the success of the advertisements, Vodafone tied up with Shoppers Stop to launch ZooZoo merchandise, such as t-shirts and mugs, the same year, which many in India will still remember buying.

In 2011, Vodafone planned to take ZooZoos to markets outside India. The company’s then CFO Andy Halford was even quoted in the media as saying, “As an international group that is what we do, we will take the best of what is happening in different markets and take it to other markets.”

Unfortunately, however, the ZooZoos never made it to the global market.

Iype believes the reason was that the marketing tool that became larger than the brand itself had run its course over the years. “You can’t stretch a good idea beyond a point.”

What Nirvana films created in a hurry, with a pinch of uncertainty and abundant risk, is today part of many childhood memories. A series of ZooZoo clips on YouTube, uploaded in 2014, has had almost 12.5 million views — proof of the characters’ continuing appeal to many.

(Edited by Poulomi Banerjee)

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Source: The Print

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