A few 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, executive creative director, South Asia, Ogilvy India, tells afaqs! 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.
Ogilvy experimented with several characters and finally took its love for the term ‘egghead’ one step too far, 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 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), move in a certain way, and even emote like human beings, with big frowns or big grins to do the trick. 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, some10 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 and Musical Greetings. 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.
Making of the Zoozoo
No, they aren’t animated characters. They are human beings who were made to wear body suits. “The design of the characters is such that one gets fooled into thinking it is animation,” shrugs Rao, 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.
“It took me three weeks of pre-production to understand how it will work,” says Varma. There were two fabrics that were considered for the body suits, and one was rejected for it had too many wrinkles and was shiny. The wrinkles would have shown when the characters moved, thereby shattering the illusion of animation. “So we chose the more practical, thicker fabric,” Varma explains.
The production team divided the outfit into two parts: the body and the head. The body part of the outfit was stuffed with foam in some places, while the head was attached separately. To make it look bigger than a human head, a harder material called Perspex was used, which in turn was stuffed with foam (with scope for ventilation).If one wishes to understand the size of this head, here’s a fact: a human head would typically reach up to the mouth level of this giant Zoozoo head. “We kept the hands and legs thin, which is why we cast women – and occasionally children – wearing the costumes,” says Varma. The thin limbs, contrasted with big bellies and a bulbous head, all add to the illusion that these creatures are ‘smaller’ than humans. Sets were created to suit the size of the Zoozoos.
Cinematically, this ‘size’ was a trick: the creatures look smaller than they actually are on screen, to portray a different world of sorts. For this, the speed of shooting was altered: Nirvana shot it in a high-speed format to make them look the size that they do.
Furthermore, simple sets/backdrops were created and spray painted with neutral Greys – a colour of choice so that attention isn’t diverted from the main characters. For a supposedly ‘outdoor’ shot, even the shadow of a Zoozoo was kept ‘live’ and not done in post production: it was painted in a darker shade of grey on the ground. An even lighting was maintained throughout.
There was virtually no post production work done.
The films were shot by Nirvana in Cape Town, South Africa, with the help of a local production house there, called Platypus. Incidentally, the same combination of people also worked on the ‘Happy to Help’ series last year. When asked whether Cape Town is fast becoming a tourist spot for Vodafone and Nirvana, Varma laughs, saying, “Oh no! It’s just that we are very comfortable with the team there and know what sort of work to expect from them.”
Nagpal adds here that the production cost had to be minimal for unveiling such a large number of commercials. “Otherwise, our production costs would exceed media spends,” he quips.
Zoozoos: storming the digital world
In the digital space, Zoozoos are currently featured on a specially created microsite – here, one can partake in quizzes and contests, including the ‘What kind of Zoozoo are you?’ quiz. Each Zoozoo has a unique set of characteristics and traits allotted to it. The microsite also allows for goodies to be downloaded (including wallpapers, screensavers and ringtones), and offers details on the IPL. With a specially created YouTube channel on the site, the TVCs are provided there for people to watch and share.
Apart from the microsite, a Zoozoo fan page has been created on Facebook, which has more than 5,600 members. Fans have access to special tag-me images, Zoozoo sounds (such as Zoozoo laughter and music tracks) and ad previews. People are also following Zoozoos on Twitter and get updates whenever new commercials go on air.
Zoozoo ads are fast becoming popular on YouTube, and on certain days, claims Nagpal of Vodafone, some of the videos even managed to figure among the most watched lot on the site.
The team behind the Vodafone-Zoozoo work includes Rao, along with Kiran Anthony, Elizabeth Dias, Rajesh Mani, Mehul Patil, Kumar Subramaniam, Kapil Arora, Debaleena Ghosh and Desmond Fernandes.