Thursday, May 21, 2009

Zooming into minds and hearts

The ‘Zoozooperstars’ are the current rage.
Ramanujam Sridhar

Love ’em or not, the Zoozoos have made an impression. And that also counts for successful advertising..

Without a doubt the Vodafone campaign is the most visible campaign of the several that are currently on air and reminds me of the statement that works wonderfully in advertising and in life: “Either love me or hate me but for God’s sake don’t ignore me.”
But should the brand have made such a drastic departure from the past? Isn’t the tone of voice too different? What will happen to the pug?

There was a time when cola advertising ruled the roost in India and if one may add, in the rest of the world too, in terms of creativity. In India, the ads for Pepsi were benchmarks for creativity as they might well have been for North America. Then Coca-Cola, which was a laggard in the creativity sweepstakes, got into the act and the original “Thanda matlab Coca-Cola” ads featuring Aamir Khan quickly catapulted the brand into visibility and enabled it to catch up with Pepsi that was far ahead then.

Today, however, the category that is setting the benchmark for that elusive quality called creativity and spends that ensure that the campaign is seen is most undoubtedly that of mobile services.

I am what may be euphemistically referred to as a “compulsive user” of the mobile phone. Of course, if you ask my wife she might use the words “obsessive user”. (I must quickly add, though, that the secret to staying married for as long as I have is to generally ignore the profound statements that one’s spouse makes.)

But both of us must agree and confess that I am nowhere in the league of my children when it comes to mobile phone usage or dependence. But let me stay with “yours sincerely” as one never knows enough about one’s own children.

I was originally a JTM user from Bangalore, one of the earliest service providers in case the name does not ring a bell and a company that was subsequently taken over by Bharti. I also have a Blackberry from Reliance whose usage I am still trying to figure out. For a short while I was wooed by Hutch, as the company was then called, and subscribed to their service in a moment of weakness. I gave up the service in a short while, as the physical fitness demands imposed by the brand on me were unacceptable to a self-respecting individual.

Maybe I need to explain this, which sounds pretty complex but in actual fact is pretty simple. Whenever I was in Bombay as it was called then and in our office in Lower Parel (or upper Worli), I had to run out of the office when the phone rang if I wanted to hear the caller. I opted out of the service as I strongly believe that fitness should never be forced on an individual, however well meaning the service provider!

I could write a book about how mobile phone companies’ advertising is much better than the coverage they provide. For example, when the user is in Kandahar or some such distant place in the commercial the phone seems to work wonderfully while it barely ever works in Koramangala in Bangalore in real life.

Maybe we should shift our offices to the more remote parts of India! The service works brilliantly in a moving train in another commercial where a father and son play chess while it invariably never seems to work with the same clarity when the father is in Anna Salai (Mount Road) and the son is in Mylapore. I do realise that children are happier this way but that is another story! Calls drop at a rate which puts to shame the rate at which Mathew Hayden slams fours in the IPL. Instead of talking about things which are beyond our control, such as service, network, call drops and wrong billing, let me talk about the ads that appear for mobile services over the network and particularly those that appear during the IPL and during the strategy breaks.

Branding a campaign

Vodafone is one of the sponsors of the second edition of IPL, like Citi and DLF. But I must compliment it for not trying to be in the league of Citi and DLF when it comes to branding their offering. I love the audacity of the bank for its frequent “Citi moments of success” which the poor, hapless commentators keep chanting. Given the way people have looked at banks and their recklessness in recent times with some of them almost being on the verge of extinction, I admire Citi’s foolhardiness in its frequent reminders to customers about success.
As for DLF, the less one speaks about it the better. I am sure as an unhappy customer of some realtor or the other, my reaction when I get shortchanged by anybody is to think “I have been DLFed” so they too have created a place under the sun for themselves. I do wish the company all success, as in these troubled times it certainly needs all our good wishes if not our patronage.

Vodafone’s ads may be more in-your-face in their execution but are at least different from the abovementioned two. The current campaign for Vodafone that has been branded as the Zoozoo campaign, without a doubt is the most visible campaign of the several that are currently on air and reminds me of the statement that works wonderfully in advertising and in life: “Either love me or hate me but for God’s sake don’t ignore me.” One can ignore the campaign at one’s own peril. There are multiple executions, close to 30, I am told, for what the mobile services industry calls “value-added services” whether it is stock alerts, beauty tip alerts, prayers or cricket scores, to name just a few.

Commercials make news

As someone who has a reasonable understanding and appreciation of the public relations process, one must say that the commercials have made news, which, given the declining importance of advertising, is itself a significant achievement.

There have been features on the making of the commercials, of how they have been shot in South Africa and how they are real-life models and not animated characters and how the models are women and children.

It has been a breakthrough in the social media networking realm and has captured the imagination of the young viewer with consumers using the character as screensavers, wallpapers and sound clips of Zoozoo ads. To put it mildly, it has captured the imagination of the young viewer and one must remember that a mobile service is essentially a young person’s category. Kids certainly spend more time on their mobile phones than with their parents and most definitely more than the time they spend with their books. It is an integral part of their lives and most certainly a high-involvement category.

I personally found the campaign different and interesting, if a bit overrated. But then I am in my fifties and perhaps not the target audience for the ‘Zoozooperstars’, as the models are described.

So I spoke to a cross-section of people who were young enough to be my children – my students, young employees and a host of youngsters across the country to get their feedback, lest I be classified as a biased, old fogey who does not understand today’s youth or what makes them tick. I also had a quiet sort of liking for the pug dog and had found the campaign warm and endearing which was what I believed was the projected personality of the brand and must confess that I still keep wondering what will happen to the poor dog.

I am loving it

The first 23-year-old I asked about the campaign gave me an indication of what youngsters think. “Oh, I love it!” she said, and her eyes lit up much as mine would have when I used to think of ice-cream 30 years ago. Today’s kids might need bigger things to turn them on, maybe John Abraham, but definitely the ads are a turn-on. Perhaps, between you and me, because this was not what I wanted to hear, I spoke to a few older people as well and here the response was a bit less ecstatic and maybe a bit muted as well. “What are they trying to say?” “Seems a bit immature,” said one 50-year-old in a sonorous voice that would have made the cheekiest youngster bite his lip. Some people, who I am sure are not animal activists, seem to be missing the pug.

It’s the money

Value-added services clearly seem to be the exciting revenue option and every service provider is after the consumer to use these services. This campaign, with its multiple executions creating awareness for the range of services, addresses that specific need eminently as most users seem to be unaware of the possibilities that the service provides. The earlier image, however cute, could be seen as passive, award-winning perhaps, but certainly not as effective as the current cheeky executions.

It certainly seems to drive home the point better than Airtel’s ads with Madhavan and Vidya Balan, whom most of the current crop of youngsters see as ‘middle-aged”. Yet, questions remain.

Should the brand have made such a drastic departure from the past? Isn’t the tone of voice too different? What will happen to the pug? Do you really need so many different executions or are the client and producer having a ball at the client’s expense? If the key revenue is going to come from cricket alerts and stock market tips is it better to stay with just a few key ones?

Singing in the rain

I am sure any campaign that promotes debate and provokes strong reactions has a lot going for it, living as we do in a world where advertising campaigns create as much impact as ships that pass us by in the night. Zoozoo certainly is different.

It reminds me of a Tamil proverb that I had heard often enough: “Either stand in the sun or stand in the rain, never stand in the shade.” The creators of the campaign remind one of summer rain that makes people rush out, revel in it and sing! It is perhaps more campaigns such as these that will get currently cynical young people to get into advertising.
May the tribe of creative rain-makers increase!

(The Ramanujam Sridhar CEO, brand-comm, and the author of One Land, One Billion Minds.)

Monday, May 11, 2009

The setting and its selling

With the IPL matches shifting to South Africa, marketers are finding ways to retain viewer interest and stay relevant.
Brands have floated promotions giving customers a chance to view matches in South Africa

The IPL is alive and kicking, but in South Africa. As I write, Rajasthan Royals, the winners of the first edition of IPL, have just won a tight game at Centurion. There are conflicting reports on the TRPs, one version says it is dropping while another says it is strong. Speaking for myself, I have watched the matches however much they have been interrupted by rain, and however many times Lalit Modi has been shown and however one sided some of them have been. (But I am an advertiser’s dream viewer and perhaps a dying breed!) Staying with Lalit Modi, I must mention however that if I had been responsible for his personal profiling I would have asked for a substantial bonus as the television crews seem to be infatuated with him! The grounds seem to be filled with people who seem to be having a good time if the amber coloured liquid in their hands is any indication. Consumers however are chafing at the bit just like Glen McGrath, who still has to get a game for the Delhi Daredevils. What is the consumer’s problem? She knows that the strategy break is a con, just to get in more commercials. She has to stay awake longer as the matches end later, defeating the very nature of T20 cricket. And batsmen are hard pressed to retain their momentum during an unnecessarily long break and usually end up holing out in the eleventh over. So quite a few people are being challenged by the matches being held in South Africa, whether it is Set max, which is wondering how to handle the extra talk time thanks to the frequent and persistent rain, or the Royal Challengers, who are wondering where their next win will come from or the Kolkatta Knight Riders, who must be dreading what new scandal will hit the media. But none of these, to my mind at least, is equal to the challenge that marketers and sponsors in India have faced with the shifting of the matches from the known to the unknown (for us at least] rainbow nation suddenly.

The theory of constraints

Marketing and management is all about optimization of resources that invariably are never enough for what we want to do. Another scenario is the presence of constraints that prevent organizations and brands from moving forward and the smarter companies handle these by taking them in their stride and working around them. I have nothing but the highest praise for the companies which had bet on the IPL second edition happening in the Chinnaswamy stadium at Bengaluru (good God!) and the Brabourne stadium at Mumbai (not much better), who found to their chagrin that the venues were the Wanderers and St. George’s Park in Centurion and several others that one had merely heard of or seen on TV. One of the most annoying aspects of the IPL commentary for me personally this season has been the way commentators have gone overboard on Lalit Modi and his team, who organized the transfer of venue in a mere three weeks. Commendable, but spare a thought for the marketers who had planned a whole range of promotional activities and ground activations in India, who were told that the matches would not be in Indian cities. Yet they have got their act together and have tried to make the most of the changed scenario within the same short time window and by and large are up and running, something that neither the Royal Challengers nor the Kolkata Knight Riders have been able to do, at least at the time of writing. So let’s take a look at some of the promotions that have been built around IPL and see what brands and companies have been doing here in India.

Ring in an idea

Idea Cellular launched the Special IPL-666 recharge where the consumer will get talk time of Rs. 666 and can earn up to 6 minutes of free talk time with every six that the Mumbai Indians score. May Jayasuria hit more sixes and may the residents of Mumbai talk more! Another visible scheme “Talk to Mumbai Indians” gives callers an opportunity to talk to Sachin, Zaheer and Harbhajan. There is a cute commercial where the phone rings and Harbhajan picks it up perhaps hoping that Symonds or Sreesanth would be on the line, but unfortunately it is a young female voice that wishes to speak to Zaheer Khan! I guess no one has told the feisty sardar that he should not pick up someone else’s mobile! For all you know it might have been someone from the Government of India asking him why he did not come to pick up his Padmasree in person! Idea has another scheme by which those who use roaming nationally or internationally have the opportunity to win a tour to South Africa. Aircel the sponsor of the Chennai Super Kings team has launched “Kaun dega man of the match award” contest for its mobile subscriber who can guess which is Dhoni’s favourite love song. The winner gets the rare opportunity to go to South Africa and hand over the man of the match award thereby getting instant recognition across continents and with millions of viewers across the world. Of course both Aircel and Chennai Superkings must be hoping that the highly paid MS Dhoni, around whom so many promotions have been built, scores a few more runs and even picks up a man of the match award as the current Indian T20 team is by and large sitting back and waiting for the foreigners to deliver whilst they poor, conscientious souls are doing it match after match - whether it is Hayden, Gilchrist, De Villiers, Sangakkara or Dilshan. Of course the veteran Indians (imagine calling the baby faced Sachin that) who are not part of the T20 team are showing our much touted youngsters a thing or two about commitment and passion. Back to the marketers, Virgin Mobile not to be outdone launches “Indian Hatke League” which gives Indian youth and not only Virgin Mobile users the opportunity to play this online mobile game where the user has the option to play for any of the eight teams participating in the second edition of IPL.

McDowell’s No.1 whose brand idea and theme has been built around friendship continues the theme with its T20 Fan Friendzy league (FFL) for the ongoing T20 season. Fans have the opportunity to form their own dream teams and virtually play ahead of every game and the group of friends scoring the highest points at the end of the season will be sent to England to watch the ICC T20 finals.

McDowell No.1 has an interesting concept “Loyal fans, die-hard friends” built around the theme that fans can support different teams and yet celebrate together while watching the games. Indigo Nation, the brand that designs trendy and fashionable formal wear for the young, edgy and maverick man is the official formal wear partner of the Royal Challengers Bangalore team. Let’s hope that the fashionable team will carry the edge on to the field. For every purchase of Rs. 1000 from indigo Nation, the customer gets a chance to win a trip to South Africa to watch the IPL semi-final and final. For every purchase of Rs. 1500, the customer gets a red satin tie, as is worn by the RCB team.

Continue to engage, continue to sell

In India, cricket sells, whether brands sell or not! While the big ticket brands like Pepsi have the capability and resources to put their money where their mouth is and spend crores of rupees behind concepts like “first ball ka captain” other brands may not have the same luxury and yet would like to capitalize on the mania that the game inspires in this diverse country. While it is relatively easier to do it in the stadia and around them when the matches are being held in India, the current scenario posts an entirely different challenge as the excitement has to happen in pubs, lounges and in sports bars. Thankfully the timing of the matches are just right for the Indian viewer (or should one add, the guzzler) as the day matches in South Africa are during the “happy hours” in India which enables one to forget how badly the team that one is supporting is playing! But back to the customer connect. While brands and marketers have been quick to cash in on the challenge they would be well advised to revisit the basics before they embark on an ambitious programme of promotions.

What is the essence of the brand?
What is the selling proposition?
How strong is the association with a particular interest like cricket?
Is it a “One off” idea or can it be long term?
Does it add to the brand’s equity or is it diluting it?
The trouble is that, at times, marketers get emotional about their brands and sometimes about cricket. An emotional attachment may or not be right for the brand. So think carefully and objectively and come up with your own strategy and here is hoping that it does not end up like John Buchanan’s multiple captains theory!

Ramanujam Sridhar is CEO of brand-comm and the author of “One land, one billion minds”.

The setting and its selling

Brands have floated promotions giving customers a chance to view matches in South Africa