Zoozoo vs. Celebrity_Subjectivity, Desire and the Indian Consumer_Pandit(1)
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Zoozoo vs. Celebrity -- 1
Zoozoo vs. Celebrity: Subjectivity, Desire and the Indian Consumer
LecturerDepartment of Media Science
Pailan School of International StudiesWest Bengal University of Technology
Phone: [email protected]
Brief Biographical note:
Sushmita Pandit is a lecturer in the Department of Media Science at Pailan School of International Studies under West Bengal University of Technology. Besides working in All India Radio, she is currently engaged in academics and research in media, violence and gender. She is a regular contributor in national and international journals. Her research interests include Indian advertising, media psychology, violence and media and gender representation.
Declaration: I hereby warrant that my paper is an original contribution that has not been previously published in any form, whether print, electronic, or any other medium and that the work is not under consideration for publication in any other project.
Postal Address: Srabosti Apartment, Flat No.-3, 1108, Pasupati Bhattacharya Road, Kolkata-700041
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Zoozoo vs. Celebrity: Subjectivity, Desire and the Indian Consumer
Celebrity endorsement in advertisement and its impact on the overall brand is of great significance. The promotional features and images of the product are matched with the celebrity image, which tends to persuade a consumer to fix up his choice from a variety of brands. However, recently a number of brands in India are staying away from celebrity endorsement; instead they are creating unique fictional characters that appeal to a large number of consumers. One of the most successful of such endeavors is the Zoozoo campaign. In April 2009, Vodafone Essar Limited, launched an innovative advertising campaign that caught the imagination of both the public and advertising professionals. The campaign, focusing on the different value added services (VAS) offered by the company, introduced new characters called the Zoozoos. In this article, I focus on the Zoozoo campaign to understand the nuances of celebrity endorsement on the overall process of brand building and also seek to illustrate the psychological aspects behind the exceedingly successful Zoozoo campaign, which has its implications in both the brand and the idea of the brand-endorser. In this essay, I argue that the changing subjectivity of the aspiring middleclass, amidst the neo-liberal conditions, facilitate in identifying with the Zoozoos. The cultural logic of neo-liberalism translates the advertising message that in turn appeals to the psychological and socioeconomic yearning for an upwardly mobile lifestyle.
Keywords: Indian advertising, Television commercial, Zoozoo, Vodafone, Psychology, Subjectivity, Market Research
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Zoozoo vs. Celebrity: Subjectivity, Desire and the Indian Consumer
One of the unique cultural specificities of India is its overwhelming fascination with
celebrities. Like any other developing country, people in India also love to live in dreams.
And often the celebrities become a personification of these dreams; a manifestation of their
socio-economic desires. Marketers use this very attribute so as to influence their existing or
potential target customers. Hence, the celebrities become the vehicle for marketing.
Marketers consider that by doing this they can connect their products with their target
customers. Similarly every product has an image. The consumer tries to consume a brand
which has the maximum fit with his/her own personality or image. The celebrity endorser
tries to accommodate these two interactions, where he tries to bring the image of the product
closer to the expectation of the consumer, by assigning some of the cultural meanings
residing in his image to the product.
In this modern age, it is very hard to get the attention of people, who tend to ignore
commercials and advertisements while flipping through the magazines and newspapers or
viewing television. But even then, the glamour of a celebrity seldom goes unnoticed.
Undeniably, celebrity endorsement in advertisement and its impact on the overall brand is of
great significance. In this process, the companies hire celebrities from a particular field to
feature in its advertisement campaigns. The promotional features and images of the product
are matched with the celebrity image, which tends to persuade a consumer to fix up his
choice from a variety of brands. Although this sounds pretty simple, but the design of such
campaigns and the subsequent success in achieving the desired result calls for an in-depth
understanding of the product, the brand objective, choice of a celebrity, associating the
celebrity with the brand, and a framework for measuring the effectiveness(Chakraborty &
Nonetheless, despite the possible benefits derived from celebrity endorsements, they
enhance a marketer’s risk manifolds and should be treated with full attention and aptitude. A
brand should be careful when employing celebrities to ensure promise, believability and
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delivery of the intended effect. The growing significance of fictional characters as celebrities
and their sway over the target segments are ample proof of public demand for icons to look
up to. As the celebrities shift from a mere commercial presence to public welfare message
endorsements, a whole new dimension is added to this process and helps us in achieving a
holistic view of the impact which celebrities generate in every sphere and segment through
their well-versed endorsements.
However, recently a number of brands in India are staying away from celebrity
endorsement; instead they are creating unique fictional characters that appeal to a large
number of people. One of the most successful of such endeavors is the Zoozoo campaign.
“On TV, the Zoozoos have come as a breath of fresh air” explains Gouri Shah (2009) of Live
Mint, “providing a much-needed respite from the staple diet of cricket and politics that most
viewers are living on—one of the objectives of the agency and the film-maker”.
In April 2009, India-based Vodafone Essar Limited, a subsidiary of mobile network
operator Vodafone Group Plc. (Vodafone) based in the UK, launched an innovative
advertising campaign that caught the imagination of both the public and advertising experts.
The campaign, focusing on the different value added services (VAS) offered by the company,
introduced new characters called the Zoozoos. Several advertisements in which the Zoozoos
featured were shown on television during the Indian Premier League (IPL) Season 2. As
Prasoon Joshi, Executive Chairman of McCann Erickson India exclaimed,
Zoozoos have given something interesting to the Indian ad industry which has been
seeing the same ideas dished out time and again. The zoozoo concept has immediately
connected with the audiences and any creative that can create an emotional connect
with an audience has hit the right spot (Quoted in Shah, 2009).
In this article, I focus on the Zoozoo campaign to understand the nuances of celebrity
endorsement on the overall process of brand building and also try to explain the
psychological aspects behind the Zoozoo campaign which has its implications in both the
brand and the idea of the brand-endorser.
Zoozoo and the Viral Campaign
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The Zoozoos were created by Ogilvy & Mather, an agency under Executive Creative
Director, Rajiv Rao. The campaign was launched on April 20, 2009 during the India Premier
League Season 2, with about thirty different television commercials for VAS including –
Cricket alerts, beauty alerts, phone backup, Chota Credit, Vodafone Maps, Vodafone call
filter, Live games, Musical greetings. The commercials were primarily twenty to thirty
seconds duration with the advertising message focusing on the VAS. Usually ending with
“Make the Most of Now”, the ads were shot by Prakash Varma and produced by Nirvana
Films within a record time of ten days. The ads were filmed in South Africa with Cape Town
based production house, Platypus Productions. The Zoozoos are small-bodied, slim women
covered in layers of white fabric. Each facial expression is made of rubber and pasted on the
actors to cut down on the time and cost for shoot. They are aesthetically and technologically
made to look like animations but they are live action, hence the production cost was reduced
significantly, since animations are 10-15 times costlier than real people. “The design of the
characters is such that one gets fooled into thinking it is animation” (Rao quoted in Joshi,
2009). Thus, Zoozoo had low cost costumes and sets, theater actors instead of celebrities, the
schedule was rapid and it only cost Rs.3 Crores for thirty advertisements.
The Zoozoos were a major hit in India. Massive viral marketing invested in the
impressive popularity of the characters, hence even though the name Zoozoo was nowhere
mentioned in the actual commercial but it became a phenomenal sensation. Even Zoozoo
merchandise, like zoozoo toys, zoozoo mugs, zoozoo key-chains, zoozoo t-shirts became
quite popular in retail stores.
The internet in general and the social media was used extensively to popularize the
characters. Dedicated micro-site was hosted where ring-tones, wallpapers, screensavers and
videos could be downloaded besides, various contests, and videos were also available.
Community pages on social networks like Facebook, Twitter and video sharing sites like
YouTube were dominated by Zoozoo related information and clips, which naturally created
strong associations with common people, especially youth. For instance, YouTube reported
that Zoozoo commercials had three million hits in three weeks and it became the most
watched viral video for two weeks. Hence, substantial curiosity was generated about the
characters widening the potential consumer base. During the IPL the Zoozoo commercials
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occupied eighty five percent of most visible brand on screen and turned out to be the most
watched brand during breaks much ahead of other brands like Airtel, Lifebuoy, or Airtel
Broadband Internet. “The Zoozoo viral campaign has been the best campaign globally and it
has been the most watched campaign till date. This is mainly because of the fact that Zoozoos
have a universal approach and it has its fan base across the globe” (Shah, 2009). Thus
Vodafone was successful in its effort of viral marketing, that completely eschewed celebrity
endorsement but their strategy captured imagination of millions across the country and almost
every age group was interested in the Zoozoo commercials.
Zoozoo vs. Celebrity Endorsement
To influence consumer buying decision, companies try to communicate by using
strategic promotional campaigns. Advertising plays a crucial role in coordinating consumer’s
purchases, it become relevant to initiate all potential measures to influence, motivate and
instill desire to purchase a particular brand. Celebrity Endorsement is a billion dollar industry
today (Kambitsis, 2002) with companies signing deal with film stars, sports persons ,
entertainers , politician and other celebrities hoping that they can facilitate them stand out
from the crowd and give them a exclusive and significant position in minds of consumers. It
is estimated that in India ,Celebrity Endorsement market is increasing rapidly and is of about
1000 Crore, Shahrukh Khan is endorsing thirty nine brands at a time (Sashidhar, 2008). Many
big celebrities are endorsed by many big brands of the consumer market. Today, use of
celebrities as part of marketing communication strategy is fairly common practice for major
firms in supporting corporate or brand imagery.
Jack Welch, the former CEO of General Electric, once said, “Our most valuable assets
are our intangible assets.” The intangible asset he was referring to is a brand. The Dictionary
of Business & Management defines a brand as: “a name, term, sign, symbol, or design, or a
combination of them, intended to identify goods or services of one seller or a group of sellers
and to differentiate them from those of competitor”. And the idea of the celebrity is defined
as “a famous person". A person who has excelled in his / her field of action or activity. In our
everyday activity, we carry out many tasks, be it at home, at work place, on field in sports, in
social life, nevertheless these acts remain daily routine work or just mundane activities per
say producing no exceptional results, hence, not noticed by anybody else as extra-ordinary,
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and naturally not taken into notice by the media. On the other hand, if a person acts or
performs anything, which produces dramatic results and is noticed by the public, that person
is regarded to have done “something special” that ordinary individual may not be able to do.
He is regarded as an exceptional person with some additional capabilities and potentialities
which an ordinary person is not endowed with. The common individuals start conceiving that
he or she is great and perceive an aura surrounding his personality. If the accomplishments
for that person is persistent and continues to be dramatic, he becomes a "celebrity", in field of
sports, cinema, theatre, social life, politics, and science especially with the aid of recurrent
media coverage. According to Friedman and Friedman (1979), a “celebrity endorser is an
individual who is known by the public for his or her achievements in areas other than that of
the product class endorsed”. In comparison to other categories of endorser, famous people
always associate a greater degree of attention, recall and loyalty. In this period of extreme
struggle, where occupying a place in the consumers’ mind is exceptionally hard, celebrity
endorsements provide an extra edge to the companies for holding the viewers’ attention.
Celebrities can catalyze brand reception and offer the massive impetus that brands require by
endorsing the inherent value to the brand.
Some of the top brands in the world including Nike and Pepsi have effectively used
this time-tested strategy of signing up stars for endorsements. In India too, HLL has
employed popular Hindi film stars to endorse their beauty soap Lux since the 1950s. Vimal,
Thums Up, Gwalior, Pamolive and Dinesh are some of the other brands that used star-appeal
since the early days of mass advertising. Marketeres think that star endorsements have a
number of benefits, vital among them being building credibility, nurturing trust and drawing
attention or any or all of which can translate into higher brand sales. The study of cultural
effects on celebrity endorsement (Grant McCracken, 1989) states that it is not the
attractiveness and credibility of celebrity that makes endorsement work. It suggests that
celebrities are extremely individualized and complex package of cultural meaning, which
could be transmitted from the celebrity to the product and from the product to the consumer.
This result is consistent with the previous study (Zabid Abdul Rashid, & Jainthy Nallamuthu
2002) regarding perception of advertising and celebrity endorsement. It also assumes that the
credibility of celebrities is considerably diverse among different ethnic groups. Selecting the
appropriate celebrity is important to enhance the credibility of the advertisement. So how
does one decide whether to put a celebrity in an ad? Ideally, this should be dictated by the
communication idea. MG Parmeswaran, Executive Director of FCB Ulka says, “As
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advertising professionals, we recommend celebrity endorsements when the case is justified.
There are many cases where you need to use the celebrity to break out of a category clutter.
At times celebrity endorsement is used to build credibility to the brand offer” (quoted in
Parmar, 2007). Most experts concur that, when used judiciously, celebrity endorsements can
be an effective strategy. According to Mohammed Khan (quoted in Khatri, 2004), Chairman
of Enterprise Nexus, “Using a celebrity by itself is not a bad idea provided it is done
intelligently.” And there are numerous instances of good and bad use of celebrities. Take
Amitabh Bachchan, who has been used by some companies like Parker Pens and ICICI Home
Loans remarkably well while some others have been unable to exploit his Big B status too
well. Shah Rukh Khan’s endorsement of Hyundai i10 too seems to have worked well.
Parmeswaran adds, “We used cricketers like Rahul Dravid for Castrol in an attempt to break
out of the clutter, as well as have an image rub off of ‘dependability’ on to the brand” (Ibid.)
Yet, there are a number of professionals and scholars who do not show much
assurance in star endorsements. Adrian Mendonza, Executive VP and Creative Director of
Rediffusion DY&R, is apprehensive about recommending celebrity endorsements since he
believes that to be genuinely successful, a brand needs to have a resilient identity of its own.
It should preferably not piggybank on the identity of a celebrity and expects to achieve
success. Mendonza explains, “I somehow get this feeling that not much effort is put in to
think through an ad with a celebrity. Most times it seems like it is just the celebrity saying ‘I
use this product, so why don’t you’ kind of thing and the ad agency thinks it has done its job”
(Ibid.). In a recent IMRB study of more than two thousand consumers (16-45 age group) in
twelve cities, eight out of ten did recall a celebrity ad. However, in many cases it was not
because of the star, but due to other factors such as the idea of the creative or even the
location it was shot at (Shridhar, 2008).
Within this context, Zoozoo, the new brand ambassador of Vodafone, created a furor
in the advertising industry. As I have earlier mentioned, Zoozoos have been successful in
giving Vodafone a makeover and establishing maximum brand presence. There are a number
of resons, why it can be considered to be a perfect example of a well-laid out marketing
strategy without involving celebrities— First, Vodafone chose the Indian Premier League 2
(IPL-2) as a platform to launch their advertisement, which proved to be a great marketing
strategy. Cricket is considered to be a religion in India, and especially IPL involves a number
of popular celebrities from the Hindi film industry and hence, Zoozoo campaign was able to
Zoozoo vs. Celebrity -- 9
curve out a niche for itself by shunning celebrities endorsing the brand and captured attention
of nearly two billion people during the IPL. People eagerly waited for breaks between
matches to see more stories about Zoozoo instead of the too familiar faces of celebrities.
Second, Zoozoos are small pseudo-animated characters with big egg-shaped head, round
belly but extremely thin arms and legs. It was a fresh and innovative concept and Vodafone
wonderfully promoted their services by creating different stories featuring Zoozoos. A
welcome break from the celebrity endorsement. The charm of the Zoozoo was itself a great
self-marketing strategy and they were instant success among masses. Within few days,
Zoozooz created a huge audience for them, giving an impetus to the Vodafone brand.
Moreover, people were perhaps even more interested in Zoozoos, when Vodafone disclosed
that Zoozooz were not animated, rather humans were playing those characters. Thus the
unfamiliarity of an animated or computer generated character was not there in the mind of the
viewer. “We wanted to create something unique, claimed Prakash Varma (2009), “a
character that would always be memorable… somewhat alien and yet, very human.” After the
release of these commercials on television, in the second phase, Vodafone disseminated these
characters on social media sites, which was also a prudent decision. Zoozoo fan clubs are
there on social networking sites like Facebook, YouTube, Orkut, Twitter, and many more,
where they have a huge followings. Thus going beyond the one way communication medium
and making it an interactive and to certain extent participatory campaign— an effort which
would have been considerably difficult and greatly expensive if it involved any celebrities.
I must hasten to add that I am not implying here that in near future, celebrity
endorsements in India is going to loose its importance. On the contrary, their ability to cut
across the classes, caste barriers and apprehensions are simply too important to be sidelined.
They have been time-tested and delivered results continually, provided it has been dealt by
experienced advertising and marketing professionals. One may keep on wondering if these
celebrity-salesmen are worth the money and the tantrums, but in a market saturated with
umpteen numbers of brands and products, celebrities, more often than not, appear to hit the
nail on the head. But there are a number of concerns that the exceedingly successful Zoozoo
campaign brings into the forefront: Firstly, Celebrity endorsements do work in the Indian
scenario. But the level and the magnitude of the effect vary with the celebrity and the product
category. The Zoozoo campaign has been very skillfully able to construct characters that have
appealed to a broad category of people. Second, the consumer looks for a variety of aspects
from the endorsement like the credibility and likeability of the endorser. Credibility also
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means the fit between the brand and the celebrity but in the Zoozoo campaign like any other
campaign with fictional characters, the characters have been created with the brand in mind
thus, unless there are shortcomings in creative planning the match is appropriate. Third, when
one endorser endorses many brands, then the recall of the endorsement depends entirely on
the power of the brand. In the case of the Zoozoo campaign, Vodafone heightened the
advertising content so that it catches a special place in the mind of the consumer, irrespective
of a celebrity. Fourth, while professional performance of the endorser or the association of
the celebrity with a controversy or ill-behaviour is important in deciding the success of the
endorsement, the fictional character does not come under the purview of such considerations;
and finally, Zoozoos go beyond the limitations of the celebrities' in terms of his or her
accessibility, regional appeal factors, credibility and belief system, which often restrain the
impact of celebrity endorsement on brands.
Psychology of the Zoozoo: Subjectivity, Desire and the Neo-liberal Consumer
The advertising strategy of Zoozoo is perhaps best understood in the light of the
theory of advertising expounded by John Berger presents in The Ways of Seeing (1987).
Berger argues that advertisements always work by engaging the viewer in a circuit of
managed subjectivity. The advertisement first ought to eliminate the perceived self-
sufficiency of the viewing subject by convincing him/her that s/he is incomplete. Then the
advertisement offers the sense of satisfaction back to the viewing subject for the price of the
product advertised. The viewer, with an overwhelming sense of personal agency, must
choose between incomplete selfhood without the product and self-sufficiency. The self-
sufficiency the viewer buys lasts until the next advertisement plays successfully on the
viewer’s sense of self. Before, I illustrate the relation between the subjectivity of the Indian
consumer and the Zoozoos, it is essential to explore the characteristics that distinguish the
A range of adjectives and personality types describe these characters that do not
produce any kind of prejudices. They somewhat look like aliens but act like human— they
are cute, quirky, cuddly, genderless, harmless, childish, humourous, dumb, full of life but
simple, approachable and adorable— in other words, Zoozoos are based on the “child”
archetype. Thus they convey a sense of familiarity and an innocent, pleasant and fantastical
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realm, usually associated with early childhood. Here it is required to explain in what way a
common individual may relate to this childlike creatures. I wish to argue that the changing
subjectivity of the aspiring middleclass, amidst the neo-liberal conditions, facilitate in
identifying with the Zoozoos. By subjectivity I wish to signify the ensemble of modes of
perception, affect, thought, desire, fear, and so forth that enliven an acting subject. But at the
same time, it is necessary to remember the cultural and social formations that shape,
organize, and provoke those modes of affect, thought, and other modes. Thus, subjectivity, in
particular, is seen as the basis of “agency,” a necessary part of understanding how people
attempt to act on the world even as they are acted upon. Agency is not some natural or
originary will; it takes shape as specific desires and intentions within a matrix of subjectivity
– of (culturally constituted) feelings, thoughts, and meanings (Ortner, 2003).
One is reminded of what Sigmund Freud stated while describing the psychosexual
development of the child— “remorselessly pleasure-seeking” (1905). As he explains,
What we can imagine in the early years of the child's life, then, is not a unified subject
confronting and desiring a stable object, but a complex, shifting field of force in
which the subject (the child itself) is caught up and dispersed, in which it has as yet no
centre of identity and in which the boundaries between itself and the external world
The Zoozoos emblematically enact such a condition. A reminder— perhaps
subconscious— for the viewer of his own experience as a child and her own desire as an
adult. Especially in the middle of rapid deregulations of the market, neo-liberal economic
reforms and swift cultural globalizations the adult subject is posited in confrontation with his
own, displaced desire. Freud's use of the word “Wunsch”, which corresponds to “wish” does
not have the same connotations as the English word “desire” or the French désir . Freud does
not equate need with desire. “Need”, can be contented through the action which obtains the
fitting object; for example the need of food. But the Freudian conception of desire refers
above all to unconscious wishes, bound to indestructible infantile signs, organized as
phantasy. Here, it is necessary to remember that Zoozoos are promoting “Value Added
Services” (VAS). These services are not essential needs and not even intrinsic to the device
that is the mobile phone. Rather they add value to the already existing basic services.
Services, which are not very necessary but nonetheless desiring; like the child’s desire for a
Zoozoo vs. Celebrity -- 12
fancy toy. Thus Zoozoos become an emblematic instance of the neo-liberal desire of the
aspiring middleclass and upper-class for services and consumable goods which are not
necessarily vital but signify the symbolic value of acquiring something more. The cultural
logic of neo-liberalism translates the childlike-desire into Zoozoolike-desire and appeals to
the psychological and socioeconomic yearning for an upwardly mobile lifestyle.
In the contemporary highly competitive market situation an advertising strategy may
obtain the greatest results if applied suitably and also can be proved as a great disaster if not
blended intelligently. Brand is certainly the most important asset of any company. The
widespread conviction among advertisers that brand communication messages that are
delivered by celebrities and famous personalities generate a higher appeal, attention and
recall than those executed by non-celebrities is repeatedly being challenged by a number of
recent advertising campaigns and Zoozoo campaign is only one of them. The quick message-
reach and impact are certainly indispensable in today’s highly competitive market. The
insistence on celebrity endorsement continues since they have often proved effective by
rising beyond the clutter and capturing the attention and focus of the consumer. They also
succeed in creating an aspiration in the minds of the consumer to acquire what their favorite
Nonetheless, marketers need to consider the pros and cons of the method of
communication. The essential goals need to be taken into account and risks and rewards must
be cautiously emphasized. In reality, a great deal of research needs to be conducted on
consumer testimonials. Advertisers are required to consider, on case to case basis, a variety of
aspects of the brand and the subjectivity of the target consumers in question, as they proceed
towards developing the strategy and execution of market communication and advertising. In
this article, however, I have primarily focused on Zoozoo campaign to explore the ways in
which the notion of subjectivity can be the basis of marketing and advertising strategy,
allowing us to ask precise questions about the cultural shaping of subjectivities within a
world of widely uneven power relations, and about the complexities of personal subjectivities
within such a world and its implications on advertising strategies.
Zoozoo vs. Celebrity -- 13
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