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Making the right connection

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Vodafone brings back its most powerful mnemonic as it grapples with the controversy surrounding the overseas transaction tax case against it, the verdict in its favour and the IT department’s review petition thereafter

Vodafone India, the third largest mobile network operator in India (after and Reliance Communications), has brought the trademark pug (Cheeka) back in its latest campaign, “Instant Connections”. The pug first appeared in 2003 in the television, print and outdoor commercials of the erstwhile mobile services, which was later acquired by British telecom giant Vodafone.

In the first television commercial (TVC) in the current series, the pug is seen helping a young boy meet a girl to promote the message of instant connection via Vodafone. , senior vice-president, brand communication and insights, Vodafone India, says, “The pug is iconic — it has seen the transition of Hutch to Vodafone and has always communicated good things about Vodafone. It is a symbol of trust and underscores the fact that Vodafone’s network is superior. Through the new communication, we would like to reinforce that Vodafone offers superior experience across three key parameters: voice quality and clarity, instant connectivity and no call drops or uninterrupted service.”

The reappearance of Cheeka might seem random to an untrained eye; but the timing assumes significance when seen against the much debated case of Vodafone’s 2007 acquisition of Hutchison Essar which involved the issue of tax liability. The question that arose in this case was whether the transfer of an Indian entity by one non-resident company to another will give rise to an incident of capital gains taxation in India or not.

Now that the Income Tax department has filed a review petition against the earlier Supreme Court verdict in its favour, Cheeka, the brand ambassador, has been saddled with an onerous task: to regain consumer confidence as the brand emerges from the controversy surrounding the overseas transaction tax case against it. Something similar to what Amitabh Bachchan did for Cadbury in 2004 following the disastrous worm infestation controversy. And again Shah Rukh Khan and Sachin Tendulkar did for PepsiCo when it ran a tactical commercial featuring the star endorsers in the weeks immediately after the ‘pesticide’ controversy first blew on its face.

But is there a connection? The company says there is no merit to the suggestion. “The SC tax verdict is more of a Vodafone Group Plc matter and has no connect with Vodafone India’s marketing and advertising strategy,” says a spokesperson.

That said, the pug has had a key role to play in every major development in the brand’s history. The early TVCs with Cheeka showed the pug following the boy to establish the network’s spread. Then the pug played a key role when the company sought to establish the Vodafone brand name following its transition from Hutch. The pug (minus the boy) was seen moving out of a pink kennel into a red one. An energetic version of Hutch’s signature ‘You and I’ played towards the end, as the super concluded, ‘Change is good. Hutch is now Vodafone’.

After Cheeka stopped appearing in Vodafone ads, a handful of white creatures with balloon bodies and egg heads, the Zoozoos, took its place from the second season of the Indian Premier League Season. According to Vodafone, while the Zoozoos were a great hit with the younger audience, the pug had established a strong connect with its entire customer base. Vodafone has also roped in Bollywood actor Irrfan Khan for its various value-added services.

Coming back to the new campaign, according to Ogilvy & Mather, the agency on the account, the new TVCs tell a story of friendship. Says Rajiv Rao, national creative director, Ogilvy & Mather, “While the first one shows how the network makes everything happen, the second TVC explains the clarity and sound quality, and the third will be centred at the no-interruption feature of Vodafone. While earlier the creative revolved around the width of Vodafone's network, now it is about highlighting the quality of the network.”

To that end, the brief to its creative agency, Ogilvy & Mather, was to establish its positioning as a superior mobile service provider. “How our voice network is superior and that people can hear clearly over the phone as the service is uninterrupted. We will be looking at a high-decibel 360 degree multimedia campaign comprising TV, print, outdoor, digital and activations in the retail outlets,” says Aggarwal.

Shot over two days in Malaysia, the TVCs have been directed by Prakash Varma and produced by Nirvana Films. While Mikey McCleary has scored the music for the film, Nikhil D’Souza has sung the background song. These will run for about six weeks. “The other task for Cheeka would be successfully topple Airtel’s eminently hummable “Har ek friend” campaign from the recall charts,” says a branding expert based in Delhi. Of course, Vodafone is not unduly hassled. The Brand Trust Report 2011 published by Trust Research Advisory has ranked Vodafone at No 16 among the most trusted brand in India.

Industry statistics also reflect a story of steady growth. According to the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India, India is the second largest and fastest growing mobile market in the world.

The sector registered impressive growth in 2010-11. The number of telephone subscriptions increased from 621.28 million to 846.32 million during the period, registering a growth of 36.22 per cent. The sale of mobile devices in India will show of rise of 8.5 per cent in 2012 by growing up to 231 million units from 213 million units last year, according to a research report from Gartner. The Indian mobile device market is very competitive with more than 150 manufacturers.

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