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Mumbai: If there was ever a star that could give the Zoozoos, the lovable, egg-headed creatures from Vodafone India, a run for their money, it would have to be ‘Cheeka’, the Pug. Making an appearance after several years, the boy and his pug are back to announce the launch of SuperNet, the company’s 4G data services and more.

Vodafone India, one of largest telecom service providers in India, made the announcement on Monday morning. “Network plays a crucial role in enhancing customer experience. In our continuing endeavour to provide superior voice and data services, we have made significant investments to expand, upgrade and modernise our network across the country. To seamlessly cater to the evolving consumer needs, Vodafone SuperNet uses multiple technologies to provide over 194 million customers across the country all-round benefits of a superior network experience, beyond just speed," said Sandeep Kataria, director, consumer, Vodafone India, in a statement.

Vodafone SuperNet is being promoted with a creative campaign conceptualised by Ogilvy and Mather India, which brings back one of India’s most loved and popular brand mascots, Cheeka, the pug. The pug in the current campaign has been played by two Cheeka lookalikes, sourced from a local trainer in Thailand, where the shoot was conducted. The campaign will be played out through the ongoing cricket season with prominent display during the telecast of the ICC T20 Cricket World Cup, among other properties.

The campaign, which kicks off with four short announcement ads for Vodafone’s new service, shows the special bond between the little boy and the pug. “When we were all sitting down and discussing ideas for the new service, the one that really stood out among the other two to three ideas, was the one with the pug. Despite the fact that the pug had not been used for four to five years, there was an instant recall and connect with the brand and the network," said Kiran Antony, group creative director, Ogilvy and Mather.

Cheeka, the pug, first made an appearance in a 2003 campaign titled “You and I" for Hutchinson Essar’s cellular service in India. In many ways, the return of the pug has been nostalgic for many associated with the campaign, especially for Rajiv Rao, national creative director, Ogilvy and Mather India.

In the earlier campaign, the dog follows the boy to unlikely locations, prompting the tagline, “Wherever you go, our network follows." The duo first appeared on TV, billboards, newspapers and bus shelters in 2003 and became instant celebrities all over India. So much so that dog breeders reported a substantial rise in the number of people wanting to buy a pug as their pet. The campaign was created by (the late) Mahesh V. and Rajiv Rao, senior creative directors at Ogilvy and Mather, Mumbai, at the time. “So, we thought why not build on an already established idea which has strong recall," he said.

Adding in the same vein was Siddharth Banerjee, national head, brand communication and insights, Vodafone India, who said, “Research has shown that the endearing Vodafone pug has had one of the most impactful and long standing connects with the Vodafone brand symbolic with our network."

The experience of shooting with the pug and the little boy has been an amazing and interesting journey for director Prakash Varma of Nirvana Films. “Initially when we started out in 2003, we had positively no clue where this would all go. We had our storyboard in place, but when we started shooting we didn’t achieve anything for two whole days, but from the third day on it was magic," he said, explaining that much like the initial campaigns, they had learned to temper down their storyline to ensure that it was not dramatic or impossible, but rather cute and believable. “The beauty of this campaign is in the simplicity," Varma said. But what was seemingly simple took a fair amount of patience. “When you’re shooting with animals and children who are 5-6 years old, you have to be sensitive and careful," he said. The crew, which shot the latest ads in Thailand, always had two dogs on the set, and had to sometimes wait for an hour or two to get the right shot, he said. “We ensured that the dog and the child spent two days playing together before we started shooting, as it was important for them to forge a bond," Varma added.

The campaign has four announcement ads, the first titled Drum (watch here) showcases the kid beating a drum about the new services, another, Truck (watch here), shows the boy driving a toy truck with the message painted on the side, with the dog in tow. The other two, yet to be released ads, show the boy painting the wall, with a little help from the dog. And the other has them both running up and down a flight of stairs which has piano keys on it.

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