Vodafone's Non-Humans Divide Dutch Advertising Community

Starring What Look Like Mutated Guinea Pigs, the Ads Have Alienated Some

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Wouter Boon
Wouter Boon
Vodafone launched a new ad campaign in the Netherlands a few weeks ago designed around non-humans that show human behavior. They're non-human because they make unintelligible sounds and look like mutated guinea pigs, but they wear normal clothes and have trouble with their mobile connection -- something we all can relate to, of course.

In one of the commercials, a "woman" calls up her mother and hangs up the phone after one single phrase -- in a language that only mutated guinea pigs understand. And a voice-over tells us that "life is too short for hasty calls." This sounds like a strange contradiction to me, but fortunately, the offer -- "talk for 60 minutes, pay for only three" -- explains in plain English that Vodafone is cheap enough for lengthy conversations. In another commercial, a "man" is searching with his laptop for an internet connection on a campsite. Voice over: "Life is too short to search for Wifi."

Both commercials are capped with the pay-off: "Power to you." To me, this is typical marketing talk. I understand it, but it sounds category generic, and I simply don't believe it. Aren't cheap minutes and a working mobile connection simply qualifiers? I liked the campaign's previous pay-off, "Make the most of now," because it triggered me emotionally. And the funny thing is that "Make the most of now" would have fit a lot better with "Life is too short for etc."

Anyway, the campaign was the talk of the advertising town. Not because the daughter-mother concept comes dangerously close to a JWT, London, commercial for Vodafone: "Sometimes life's more than a three-minute conversation" (awarded a Silver Lion at Cannes 2006). No, on the website of Adformatie (the Dutch equivalent of Advertising Age), the discussion mainly revolved around Vodafone's new characters. The ad pundits were divided into two camps. The first said it admired Vodafone for sticking its head out with this daring ad property. And the second said that Vodafone completely lost it.

Amsterdam-based advertising agency They (recently awarded international small agency of the year by Advertising Age) created this new campaign. It said it chose "characters" because normal people in a normal world are no fun to look at. The agency knew it was a polarizing concept, but it is confident that it simply needs some time to grow on its consumers. This could be true. In India, Ogilvy & Mather, Mumbai, successfully introduced the Zoozoos for Vodafone this year -- very distinctive white creatures that play little sketches and speak a language humans don't understand.

One thing that makes me skeptical about Vodafone's new characters though, is that these unattractive-looking mutants imitate the consumer. How can the consumer relate to them? And we're talking about Vodafone here, the sexy brand that has world-leader status, claims the color red and sponsors race cars. If you ask me, both camps on the internet were right: Vodafone lost it, because they wanted to stick out their head in a daring way.

Wouter Boon, founder of Boon Strategy, writes the Amsterdam Ad Blog.
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