Monday, May 4, 2009

Here comes the Zoozoos!!!

It was over 2 weeks ago... I was at home, comfortably ensconed in front of the television... popcorn bowl in hand... watching the IPL season 2 cricket matches. During the commercial breaks, my attention was attracted to the new Vodafone ads... where they were conveying a range of value added service (VAS) offerings to their customers. But wait a minute! Who were these lovable alien-like animated cartoon characters???
I discovered that these white, scrawny creatures with giant heads... who invade our TV screens during an IPL match are called 'Zoozoo'. 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!!! Cute and endearing... they have a certain madness to them, which makes them all the more likeable and memorable.

The sheer visual difference of the ads break through the clutter, a la the 'pug' ads... which were masterpieces by themselves... I never thought that the 'pug' could ever have a rival, in the world of advertisement... but the arrival of the 'Zoozoos' have proved me wrong. Infact, I am liking them more than the cricket matches... and I am sure that there are many who share my opinion!

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 (this being the season of the dance of the 'God of democracy' as well) that most viewers are living on or rather forced to live on. From the name 'Zoozoo' to the painted eyes and mouth, and the stick-like limbs, I have not seen anything like them.

My curiosity aroused (and needless to say that I was and am completely hooked), I set about to find more about these 'eggheads'!

The free dictionary ( defines a 'Zoozoo' as 'the wood pigeon'. Hmmm... no similarities here... wood pigeons and these lovable alien-like creatures cannot even be distant cousins!!

No, they aren't animated characters. They are 'real' human beings who were made to wear body suits. According to Rajiv Rao, executive creative director, South Asia, Ogilvy India, "The design of the characters is such that one gets fooled into thinking it is animation," which was indeed the very illusion that had to be created. "In a sense, it is 'live' animation!" he quips, referring to the fact that it was all shot live. The films were shot by Nirvana Films in Cape Town, South Africa, with the help of a local production house there, called 'Platypus'. No, I am not referring to the 'Duckbill Platypus', silly... even though "Syd" the Platypus was one of the three mascots chosen for the Sydney 2000 Olympics along with an echidna and a kookaburra!!! This small, furry, shy little animal loves the water and Australia (and the worms, slugs, shrimp, larvae, eggs, fish, tadpoles and yappies in the waters in and around Australia, especially the rivers in Eastern Australia and Tasmania) too much I guess, and would not be interested to make the long travel (read: swim) to South Africa... to watch the DLF IPL 2009 and ogle at all the cheerleaders... there is plenty happening in Oz country itself with no dearth of eye candy either!!! Therefore, it is in no hurry for a change of taste!!! In any case, it keeps to itself and does not use its eyes or ears (poor thing)... and is also not keen to clock up frequent flier miles and travel awards... certainly not music to the ears of Vijay Mallya and his Kingfisher Airlines...!!!

Six months ago, Vodafone briefed its agency, Ogilvy India, to create uncommon characters - a common thread to link the ads in the campaign together. Rajiv Rao says that the only starting point for the team was that the character had to be simple to a stupefying level. And thus, the 'Zoozoo' was born.

Several characters were drawn up and considered by Rao and his team at O&M India, before they settled on the '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.

Egghead! Ogilvy experimented with several characters and finally took its love for the term 'egghead' one step further, creating characters that don the colour white (with black dots for eyes and a mouth), have heads resembling eggs, and disproportionately thin bodies.

The idea is to tell the value added service (VAS) stories in a world akin to, yet different, from humans. The creatures were then given a characterisation: they are to lead simple lives, speak a language of their own - something that sounds like gibberish or perhaps this is the language spoken by 'dolls' just as Sanskrit is the language spoken by the Gods... well, I achieved some rhyming there (!) They have to move in a certain way, and even emote like human beings, with big frowns or big grins to do the trick. I have to mention the ad (the Vodafone International Roaming Ad) where Mr. and Mrs. Zoozoo are shown touring the world - the Statue of Liberty, the Eiffel tower, etc., ... and Mr. Zoozoo's antics reminded me of... who else (?) but our very own Bollywood's shirtless thunder - Salman Khan a.k.a. Sallu Mian!!! And were the 'Star of the match' ads (the IPL Contest 1, the IPL Contest 2) 'inspired' by or alluding to a certain SRK??? Mmmm... mind chow!! The execution is almost like emoticons. "We even limited the number of emotions to be used, to keep things easy," says Rao.

A completely Indian concept, Rao lent these characters a name: the 'Zoozoos'. There's no science to it, he explains - the name just had to be something fun, memorable and catchy, and not a clever one that's difficult to pronounce. Ironically, nowhere in the communication does the 'Zoozoo' name pop up, but Rao doesn't feel that's much of a problem: it wasn't a task to popularise the name in the first place.

Currently, over 15 films are on air, for service offerings such as, Cricket Alerts, Beauty Alerts, Phone Backup, the IPL Contest 1, the IPL Contest 2, Chhota Credit, Vodafone Maps, Vodafone Call Filter, Live Games, Musical Greetings, Vodafone Stock Alerts, Vodafone International Roaming, Vodafone Bhakti sagar, Vodafone Dating Tips, Vodafone Love Guru and Vodafone Magic Box. Each film, shot against a Grey backdrop, has these characters interacting with one another (some storylines even have Zoozoo families) with the product story weaved in.

For instance, the Phone Backup ad (the first in the series) has several Zoozoos lined up to have their faces photocopied through a photocopier, while a tetris towards the end (the messenger in all the ads) announces how Vodafone allows for creating a phonebook backup.

In 2008, Vodafone had unveiled the 'Happy to Help' series during the first season of the Indian Premier League (IPL). With the launch of the second season, Vodafone has given birth to the Zoozoo: a special character created specifically to convey a value added service (VAS) offering in each of the newly released commercials. What’s interesting is that there are some 25-30 such commercials planned under this campaign - each ad promoting a different value-added service on offer by Vodafone, from maps to stock alerts - about 15 of which are already on air. The aim is to release approximately one ad a day, to sustain the interest till the end of the IPL. It’s no mean feat to unleash so many commercials at a go, with the risk of the consumers not grasping them as fast as the brand churns them out.

"We wanted to create something unique. A character that would always be memorable… somewhat alien and yet, very human," says Prakash Varma, director at Nirvana Films, who made these ad films. "When we started out, the idea was to ensure that no one should be watching cricket. Everyone should be talking about 'Zoozoo'."

I guess the ads are a hit across age groups going by people's reactions and the general buzz on the blogosphere. Simply 'Zooperb'!!!

(More later)

Note: Information gathered courtesy: and Wikipedia.

Photographs: (in clockwise order)

1. Zoozoo wallpaper from the 'Vodafone International Roaming' ad.

2. Zoozoo wallpaper from the 'the IPL Contest 1' ad.

3. A 'Zoozoo' wearing a red tie. Looking quite natty... na??

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