Vodafone Boy-Girl ads: is the furore justified?

V

The new series of Vodafone ads earned a ‘oh cho chweet‘ response from some of my friends – mainly with respect to the return of the pug. I must admit that the ads, especially the cycle one, evoked an uneasy feeling in me. The reaction to the campaign has been divided – some are accusing those who take objection to the ads as being hypocrites. Celebrities have also commented in on the ad through micro blogs.

One line of argument from those who feel the ads are fine is to say that we all (including children) are anyway exposed to ‘bold’ messages in popular entertainment like movies & music videos. Others say that this is merely a portrayal of innocent friendship, quite like the friendship between Kevin & Winnie in Wonder Years (which we all loved).  And those who see anything beyond just innocent friendship have a perverse mind. My views:

It’s tough being a kid these days in any case. From the time they are in school, they are put through all kinds of influences, pulls & pressures. Parents struggle to stave them from ‘bad’ influences as far as possible. But the attraction of popular culture is far too magnetic for kids. The influence of mass media is all pervading. As a parent I find it disgusting when innocent little kids imitate vulgar gyrations of an ‘item number’ or mouth words from songs filled with double entendre. Up to a certain age it can be overlooked; as one assumes that nothing can take away a child’s innocence. After a certain age, parents do take steps to ensure that kids don’t get distracted  [that distraction can come in several forms – addiction to internet, gaming and so on] and ‘behave their age’. Parents teach children about pros & cons of relationships because deep down they want them to do the right things. So the portrayal of what 12-13 year olds catching furtive glances and wanting to spend time alone can cause some uneasiness. As Harish Bijoor says, ‘this kind of advertising thrusts adulthood on children a little too early’.

I do realize that kids today are far more aware than kids of the earlier generation. It is healthy for them to interact with the opposite gender from an early age and see them as good friends. But the tone of a brand content is likely to come under more scrutiny than mass media. Unsavoury stuff from popular cinema can be dismissed as ‘that’s how they are’. ”It’s only advertising’ can be the argument here too but we are talking about a commercial transaction at some level. We want the consumer to feel good about what we say & how we say it. And go out buy our brand and be its advocate. Since the execution of the ad can be construed by some as suggestive, why leave room for negative take outs?

The argument that there are even more vulgar things being shown on TV in the form of movies & music videos does not wash for me because that kind of entertainment is not sponsored by a brand. If advertising is meant to create positive associations about a brand and increase sales, every piece of communication sponsored & paid for by the brand has to work towards making the consumer feel good about the brand. While the Vodafone ads may be seen as cute, well executed, it may have earned more brickbats than accolades. Your views?

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33 comments

  • Not been a big fan of Vodafone and their service recently, but can’t argue with the fact that the ads were presented to be pure and sorta cute.

    While I do understand your arguments that nothing excuses sleezy advertising, not even distraction by pointing at worse material out there, I definitely do not think of these ads as either sleezy or shady.

    However, I do think Vodafone got the result they desired. We’re sitting here discussing the brand, some defending it, some sort of criticizing it.

  • I completely agree with you, Mr. Bhat. As a father of a 3 year old daughter, am very much afraid of the influences of TV and the kind of commercials they air in. In one of the kids cartoon channel, I recently saw an advt in which an eight/nine year old boy saying "Wow aunty. kya dikhtii hain" in some commercial. Is this the way of appreciating from a boy of that age? People who make such advts should think about all these. I, usually like Vodafone's advts, as they are very creative. But this time I am taken aback as this deals with younger boy-girl relationships. Of course, our kids wont stop doing all this if we dont show these commercials or say not to do them as they are very much influenced by this mass media communication. But guys, why make it very obvious??? If anybody says that am being over conservative parent and all, be it.

    Thanks

    ~ Sreeharsha

  • There are certain ads like that pup pulling that little boys shirt indicating his puppy faced girl riding bicycle. This is was OK for me but the other ad of Vodafone where Pup is barking at a man who is trying to climb the building steps so that little boy can have some private moment/conversation with his friend. That was double edged idea of selling the features of the brand.

    In either case I like most of these ads.

  • Not clear on what all the noise is about- my two cents on this

    a) This is an ad targeting adults using kids as props and one should see it in that spirit. If the case was the other way i.e a kiddo product using these ads, then yes all the hue and cry would make sense.

    b) If people get offended by these ads ,advisable that they exercise parental guidance and change channels or better still switch off their TVs’ – having said this what baffles me is that the parent is allowing the kid to watch programs ( if one wants to exercise strict guidance) which are not meant for the latter ( otherwise this ad should have been on Cartoon network which I am sure it is not)

    c) In the larger context one has to realize that there is a new generation – a generation that is more aware. These kind of restrictions will only make them rebellious and no point commenting later that “you never told me about this and that” / “we are supposed to be friends not father daughter etc etc…..”

    d) Finally on the ad per say- personally think it is a” me too” of Flipkart. Considering that Vodafone ads are about originality -a lot left to be desired in that front.

    Needless to say as the one of the earlier author mentioned- ‘it has got attention’ but definitely not from a strategy or creative perspective

  • I am sorry but I really don't get this double standard.

    When SRK makes a 'children's movie' in RA one, we have a song about Chamak Challos, a breast grabbing scene and a 5 minute long escapade based only on pelvic thrusts; and all of this the kids are supposed to love.

    But sadly, when ads show something pure and magical as first love, everyone sharpens their knives. As Indians, we are okay with kids doing obscene dances moves on reality shows but suddenly take offence when a bit of western influence comes in.

    Lets be clear. We all had crushes when were kids. These ads show the same in a sweet way. Nothing more. Nothing less.

    If Amrutanjan Balm ads such as these (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pGTbZJ_iC2g) don't get noticed for the wrong reasons, I don't know why Vodafone ads shouldn't get noticed for the right ones.

    • hi Adarsh, thanks for the comment. Let me repeat what I said in the blog post: it is disgusting to peddle cheap, vulgar stuff in movies meant for kids. I cringed when I had to see RaOne with my kid. And specifically during the scenes you mentioned. Neither am I OK with kids doing obscene dance moves. So no double standards there.

      No arguments on kids having crushes. Maybe its a generation gap thing – oldies like me not relating to it. What I am uncomfortable about (I am as much entitled to my opinion as anyone else) is a brand communication that sends out messaging that can be construed either way .

  • @Adarsh – you have hit the nail on the head! What Vodafone has portrayed is innocent and pure…. and cute! There is nothing remotely suggestive about this ad!

    Parents send their kids to reality dance shows and have little 10 year old girls dancing to "chikni chameli pauwa chadha ke aayi", "main zandu balm hui darling tere liye", "zabaan pe laga namak ishq ka" (roughly translated – your salty love-juice touched my tongue)… Mr. Bhat – these shows are most definitely sponsored by brands! The TV channel showing it is a brand, the guys buying ad space during the show are brands… and this is their way of sponsoring it! Even movies – are the production cos. not brands? Sony pictures, Big pictures, rajshri, nadiadwala grandson, etc are the guys who pay to create such entertainment and make money off it. Im surprised that you made such a naive statement. Surely a man with your understanding of marketing cannot think in such a silo.

  • Having said tht, Flipkart just won a a metal for their ads. One where little boys are checking out girls, two little girls are talking about a third guy with the line "Handsome kidhar hai aaj kal?" and so on..

    I think the problem with Vodafone ads is that unlike Flipkart they left it to the viewers to decide what was going on. They were not overt.

    And because we are Indians we automatically thought it was dirty and took offence.

  • Neither for nor against , just have a simple observation. A 30 sec ad can do just so much. Lets not give unnecessary credit or otherwise of changing behaviors to this one piece of communication. Whilst the observations on inappropriate lyrics, obscene dance moves can be justifiable, I guess most of the kids emulate cause it's catchy,hummable and fun. They don't go to lengths trying to decode what is said. What catches their attention is the way it is said.
    The vodafone ad is nothing but cute and anything more is I guess our imagination that has transpired as parents from all the other things that happens
    around us .

  • I am appalled at your viewpoint. You felt uncomfortable seeing the bicycle ad? Really? The ad is a sweet and innocent representative of a school boy who develops his first crush in life. Hasn't it happened to all of us. Didn't we want to reach school fast everyday just to catch a glimpse of our sweetheart. Or get to see our colony crush every evening while playing cricket. What your interpretation is that first crushes during childhood are not "innocent" and that shocks me. Feeling attracted to a girl or a boy during childhood is not losing innocence. I am disappointed with your perspective on what is innocent and what is not.

  • Not been a big fan of Vodafone and their service recently, but can't argue with the fact that the ads were presented to be pure and sorta cute.

    While I do understand your arguments that nothing excuses sleezy advertising, not even distraction by pointing at worse material out there, I definitely do not think of these ads as either sleezy or shady.

    However, I do think Vodafone got the result they desired. We're sitting here discussing the brand, some defending it, some sort of criticizing it.

  • There are certain ads like that pup pulling that little boys shirt indicating his puppy faced girl riding bicycle. This is was OK for me but the other ad of Vodafone where Pup is barking at a man who is trying to climb the building steps so that little boy can have some private moment/conversation with his friend. That was double edged idea of selling the features of the brand.

    In either case I like most of these ads.

  • Not clear on what all the noise is about- my two cents on this

    a) This is an ad targeting adults using kids as props and one should see it in that spirit. If the case was the other way i.e a kiddo product using these ads, then yes all the hue and cry would make sense.

    b) If people get offended by these ads ,advisable that they exercise parental guidance and change channels or better still switch off their TVs' – having said this what baffles me is that the parent is allowing the kid to watch programs ( if one wants to exercise strict guidance) which are not meant for the latter ( otherwise this ad should have been on Cartoon network which I am sure it is not)

    c) In the larger context one has to realize that there is a new generation – a generation that is more aware. These kind of restrictions will only make them rebellious and no point commenting later that "you never told me about this and that" / "we are supposed to be friends not father daughter etc etc….."

    d) Finally on the ad per say- personally think it is a" me too" of Flipkart. Considering that Vodafone ads are about originality -a lot left to be desired in that front.

    Needless to say as the one of the earlier author mentioned- 'it has got attention' but definitely not from a strategy or creative perspective

  • hi Adarsh, thanks for the comment. Let me repeat what I said in the blog post: it is disgusting to peddle cheap, vulgar stuff in movies meant for kids. I cringed when I had to see RaOne with my kid. And specifically during the scenes you mentioned. Neither am I OK with kids doing obscene dance moves. So no double standards there.

    No arguments on kids having crushes. Maybe its a generation gap thing – oldies like me not relating to it. What I am uncomfortable about (I am as much entitled to my opinion as anyone else) is a brand communication that sends out messaging that can be construed either way .

  • All my friends (including your’s truly) who are parents of girls squirm at the ads. However, parents of boys don’t find the ads the least bit offensive.

  • All my friends (including your's truly) who are parents of girls squirm at the ads. However, parents of boys don't find the ads the least bit offensive.

By bhatnaturally

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bhatnaturally

Ex-ad man. Love advertising, Apple, tech, digital, design and all things creative. VP - MarCom, @Robosoft. Views personal. See disclaimer for more.

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