These are words that best describe the sad and ignominious fade-out of India’s favourite advertising characters, the ZooZoos of Vodafone. I deliberately used the words ‘fade-out’, and not demise, because the ZooZoos did run this year too on IPL but the sad part is that I, and I would presume most others, would really not have seen them. Gone are the glorious days when some two dozen animated TV ads would be created, and released with much ceremony and fanfare, on every new edition of the IPL. And every new unveiling of the ZooZoos would be looked forward to by
millions of their fans with much anticipation and joy … even today the official Facebook page of the
ZooZoos has over 19 million likes.
The ZooZoos are off-air this year. In fact no new series has been created. Voda-Idea has not really killed the ZooZoos but let them kind of languish in ignominy. So the Vodafone campaign this year is just a set of digital ads supporting a contest/quiz as part of Vodafone’s ‘Unofficial Sponsor of Fans’ campaign.
ZooZoos were first created way back in 2009 to coincide with IPL 2. The 20-20 tournament had been a big success in its first year; Vodafone were one of the major sponsors; and brand custodians at Vodafone perhaps felt that IPL deserved creatives that were specially created for the new T20 tourney. Also that these new creatives needed to be younger, more whacky, more fun and also more interactive. Hence were born the ZooZoos - white creatures with ballooned bodies and egg heads who were specifically used to promote various value added services of Voda. The interesting thing is that these characters, created by Ogilvy, were actually human actors in body suits.
The ZooZoos were brought to life by Prakash Verma, the Bangalore based director, under his Nirvana Films banner. Not very many people, including advertising professionals, are however aware 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. 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 some years ago to express their interpretations of ‘mushroom cuisine’ at a big event in Tokyo!
‘Inspired’ or not, Vodafone and Ogilvy created a unique identity for the ZooZoos and 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 last year were just the continuation of a good idea, representing the quick, agile and efficient service experience of the digital transformation initiatives at Vodafone India.
Zoozoos in 2009
Zoozoos in 2010
Zoozoos in 2011
Zoozoos in 2012
Zoozoos in 2013
Zoozoos in 2015
Zoozoos in 2016
Zoozoos in 2017
Zoozoos in 2018
Over the years, there has been criticism in marketing circles to say that Zoozoos were tending to become old wine in a new bottle with every passing year. Some of that criticism may well have been valid. 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 has been refreshed every time. But in the same mould, same broad frame. Air India’s Maharajah was kind of the same. Old, yet new. New, yet old.
However, what Voda-Idea have done to the ZooZoos this year is really sad. And unpardonable. Reduced them to nobodys, non-entities. Pale shadows of what they really were once-upon-a-time. The honourable thing would have been to just let them die… perhaps even give them a ceremonial burial after a decade of celebrated service to the brand. So that we would only remember the ZooZoos for what they were…. Simple scripts. Simple execution. Simple messaging. Simple promises. Simple delivery. But great advertising, great characterisation.
The ZooZoos have had to go because the new joint entity Voda-Idea is jettisoning all of the past of the two brands. The cute pug Cheeka was given a quite exit with the arrival of two network engineers in the new Vodafone advertising a few months back. Now it is the turn of the ZooZoos. Wonder why Voda-Idea’s brand custodians are doing all this. Is it because they still haven’t figured what the new brand name of the joint entity will be, and what values it will stand for? But, yes, they have summarily decided that all of the past… good or bad… has to be erased and banished. I don’t really understand the logic.
The ZooZoos will remain etched in public memory for a long long time whatever be the methodology its keepers choose to kill them by: starvation, suffocation, strangulation or just suicide. All I can do is to close this piece with the balance lines of the quote I started it with:
Oh, now you weep, and, I perceive, you feel
The dint of pity. These are gracious drops.
Kind souls, what, weep you when you but behold…
(Carol Goyal is an independent Mumbai based writer.)