Mumbai: Meet the Zoozoos, the stick-like figures with egg-like heads that appear in TV ads for Vodafone and have become all the rage in India.
So much so that the company’s plans to air 30 different commercials featuring the Zoozoos during the Indian Premier League’s (IPL) Twenty20 cricket series seems like a strategic masterstroke, although it is likely to come as a surprise to viewers that the ads aren’t animated—there are really people inside those Zoozoo costumes.
But this much is known: Zoozoo is definitely anthropomorphic, and was created by the creative team at Ogilvy and Mather (O&M) India.
The ads, 13 of which have been aired until now, have become popular with viewers. So much so that one of them, an ad for beauty tips over the phone, was viewed 13,000 times last week on YouTube. The Zoozoos have also taken Facebook by storm. They have nearly 35,000 friends.
That’s quite a bit more than the 1,200 and 4,000 India’s prime ministerial candidates in the ongoing elections, L.K. Advani and Manmohan Singh have respectively.
“With approximately 300 seconds of media being spent each day (on IPL), we had to figure out a way to communicate as many services as possible in a way that would not cheese off the customer,” said Harit Nagpal, director (marketing and new business) at Vodafone Essar Ltd.
Each of the 30 ads will promote a different value-added service on offer by Vodafone, from maps to stock alerts.
Several characters were drawn up and considered by executive creative director (South Asia) Rajiv Rao and his team at O&M India, before they settled in on Zoozoo.
“We were very close to what you see as the final version of Zoozoo. The only difference was that we had two options, one that looked more like Mr. Potato Head, a completely round body with thin limbs… the other, a thinner version with a big head and scrawny limbs. We picked the latter as it was easier to have head and body movements in that costume,” says Rao.
And then, in two-and-a-half months, the agency had to come up with the films, each of which is 20-30 seconds long.
“We had to shoot, edit and finish sound recording for 30 different television commercials in 10 days. The whole thing, pre-production included, took a little over a month and was shot completely in Cape Town, South Africa,” says Rao.
There were other challenges as well.
The characters, all local theatre actors, had to perform in costumes, which came with their own set of problems. Wearing an enlarged headpiece, for example, meant that all the actors were practically blind.
“They couldn’t see where they were going, so we had several funny instances where the actors would walk right out of the frame during shooting. Also, it was very difficult for them to breathe with those headpieces on, so the actors would take them off every few minutes for some air. But after the first few days, we got into the groove of things and managed just fine,” says Prakash Varma, director at Nirvana Films.
And because the shooting schedule was punishing, the film-maker had to use adult actors—all slim-built women—as opposed to children, who would have been better suited to play the part of the Zoozoos. As a result, to make the characters look tiny, all the sets and props had to be larger than life. The expressions on the faces of the Zoozoos, deliberately simplistic and limited in number, were all made in rubber and pasted onto their heads. While the change in expression and the characters could have been animated, it would have taken several years to finish 30 television commercials and come at a huge cost to the advertiser. According to Nagpal, the entire shoot cost approximately Rs3 crore.
The rising popularity of the Zoozoos can also be attributed to the platform provided by IPL, which garnered two billion eyeballs in its inaugural season last year. “There’s also the curiosity factor piquing viewers who wonder, who are the Zoozoos really? Are they alien?” says Prasanth Mohanachandran, executive director (digital) at OgilvyOne Worldwide. On the Zoozoos Facebook page, people can view new commercials, download images and wallpapers, and participate in a “What kind of Zoozoo are you?” contest. In the pipeline are a spot, titled “A day in the life of Zoozoo” on Twitter, and merchandise such as key-chains, mugs, T-shirts, and mobile phone stands.
However Mahesh Murthy, founder and chief executive officer of Pinstorm, a digital agency, sounds a word of caution. “While their media strategy to blast these ads during IPL has worked for the brand, the downside is that the characters are bigger than the story being sold. People have a limited capacity to remember features, so it may have worked to release the ads in a phased manner rather than hammer them out one after the other.”
Still, on TV, the Zoozoos have come as a breath of fresh air providing a much-needed respite from the staple diet of cricket and politics that most viewers are living on—one of the objectives of the agency and the film-maker.
“We wanted to create something unique. A character that would always be memorable… somewhat alien and yet, very human,” says Varma, who made the films. “When we started out, the idea was to ensure that no one should be watching cricket. Everyone should be talking about Zoozoo.”