Here come the Zoozoos!

MissMalini , 29 Apr 2009


Now that we’ve all come to know and love the little “Zoozoo” (the new brand ‘endorser’ for Vodafone, the scrawny white creatures with giant heads which pop up during every “strategic break” of the IPL matches) which some liken to aliens; others insist are animated cartoon characters (but actually they’re not) while the rest don’t quite know what to make of them. I thought I’d share this article I came across on Agency FAQs which tells you how they did it!

With 25 such commercials planned, releasing one a day, to sustain interest till the end of the IPL Harit Nagpal, chief marketing officer, Vodafone India explains, “…the brand was in need of an idea that would work doubly hard, as it was planning to spend some four months’ worth of marketing monies in one month…”

Enter Ogilvy India, Rajiv Rao, executive creative director, South Asia, Ogilvy India,  revealed that the only starting point for the team was that the character had to be simple to a stupefying level. And so, the Zoozoo was born.  Ogilvy experimented with several characters and finally took its love for the term ‘egghead’ one step (perhaps) too far, creating characters in white (with black dots for eyes and mouths), who’s heads share un uncanny resemblanc eto eggs, with disproportionately thin bodies.

The creatures were characterized as leading simple lives, speaking a language of their own (something that sounds like gibberish to us) with the ability to emote like human beings (with very big and emoticon-esque frowns or grins.) “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 nothing too clever or difficult to pronounce. Ironically, nowhere in the communication does the Zoozoo name actually pop up, but Rao doesn’t feel that’s much of a problem: their directive was never to popularize the name in the first place.

Each film, shot against a grey backdrop, has these characters interacting with one another (some of the TVCs even feature 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 you to backup your phone.



And if you’re still wondering… No, they’re not animated characters at all. They are in fact human beings in body suits! “The design of the characters is such that one gets fooled into thinking it is animation,” says Rao, which was 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. Prakash Varma, ad filmmaker, Nirvana Films, has directed the commercials, and reveals that the Zoozoos were a big challenge to create. The practical aspects of how they will move, talk, gesticulate and emote were very important making costume design and artwork very crucial elements. “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 having too many wrinkles and being shiny. The wrinkles would have shown when the characters moved shattering the illusion of animation. “So we chose the more practical, thicker fabric,” explains Varma. 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).

Didjya Know?
A human head would typically reach up to the mouth level of a 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. Simple sets and backdrops were created and spray painted with neutral greys – the color of choice so 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 simply painted in a darker shade of grey on the ground with even lighting maintained throughout.

CG! techies will be surprised to hear that there was virtually no post production done at all. The films were shot by Nirvana in Cape Town, South Africa, with the help of a local production house there, called Platypus.

In the digital space, Zoozoos are currently featured on a specially created microsite, and you can take a quiz to decide  what kind of Zoozoo you are since each Zoozoo has a unique set of characteristics and traits allotted to it (apparently I’m a “cool Zoozoo.”) The microsite also allows for downloadeds (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 to know when a 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.

Zoozoos come in all shapes and sizes; kids, mother, friends, individuals…there does not seem to be a set format to use them which makes the possibilities endless. Satbir Singh, chief creative officer, Euro RSCG, shares his own Zoozoo story: “Every time the commercial gets over, my two-year old son Angad hands me the remote and demands to watch it again. The other day, a waiter at a club mixed up my order as he was too busy watching the ad during IPL!” That pretty much sums up the (as he puts it) ‘Zooperb’ impact!


P.S. This one reminds me of the Mirindaaaaah Men (inspired from the Blue Man group) remember them?!


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