Forty-four years after legendary filmmaker Satyajit Ray created the iconic dwarf Ang, which was adapted by Hollywood director Steven Spielberg as the E.T., a crew of 25 admen has given India a new cult of queer beings - the Zoozoos.
The dwarf egg-heads who are almost everywhere - on television, billboards, at the Indian Premier League venues and in the minds of millions of viewers - are Vodafone's new brand ambassadors with one of the highest TV viewership ratings during this poll and IPL season.
Thanks to the aliens created by an Ogilvy and Mathers (O&M) crew, Vodafone with a share of 12 percent is leading the top five commercial brands that have contributed to 26 percent of the overall commercial advertising share, according to television audience measurement (TAM) figures.
The Zoozoos also have one of the largest fan bases on the social-networking circuit Facebook with two sites, one official and one unofficial, featuring more than 100,000 Zoozoo buffs.
But the Zoozoos, who resemble aliens, are not Ray's ET from the planet Cranius who befriended the Bengali school teacher Banku Babu.
For one, the Zoozoos are real beings in body suits who shot the commercials over 10 days in Cape Town, South Africa. And they are up to something new each day. Vodafone will release 30 Zoozoo commercials thoughout the IPL season.
"The Zoozoos are not animated characters. They are human beings in body suits made of foam so that they stay in shape. We used young women of slight build, mostly ballet and theatre dancers," Rajiv Rao, the executive creative director of O&M, told IANS from Mumbai.
Ad-filmmaker Prakash Varma of Nirvana Films, who directed the commercials for O&M, says Zoozoos were a big challenge to create. "The practical aspect of how they would talk, gesticulate and emote were very important. It took me three weeks of pre-production work to understand how it would work."
There were two fabrics that were considered for the body suits. One had too many wrinkles and was shiny.
"The wrinkles would have shown when the characters moved. So, we chose the more practical thicker fabric," Varma said. The production team divided the fabric into two parts - the body and the head. The body parts of the outfit were stuffed with foam, while the head was attached separately.
"To make it look bigger than the human head, we used a material called Perspex. We wanted to keep the hands and the legs thin, which was why we cast women," the filmmaker explained.
The objective of the campaign was to refresh the consumer's memory every day during the IPL season with one commercial a day. "We wanted to make one film a day and create a common character, which would come and go every day but have a steady recall. The verdict was that a cartoon character would be the most inspiring," Rao said.
The makers of Zoozoo might return with a fresh lot of ads - if the ratings climb. "But we have not given it any specific thought," Rao said.