03 March 2017 14:41:22 IST

I love you but I love my phone more ….

Is it enough for ads to play on the obsession with smartphones or should they go the extra mile?

Imagine if you had a choice between taking your spouse or your mobile phone to a desert island: which would you choose? Ok, ok you don’t have to answer that. I can, because I am secure in the knowledge that my wife never reads anything I write (even a shopping list) and can tell you that a mobile phone wins hands down.

Have you observed what young people do when they are sitting at a restaurant or even in a park? They keep staring intently at their mobiles instead of looking at each other, for who knows which WhatsApp message might disappear if they looked at it an hour later!

While this malady may seem particularly associated with young people, I think it is a universal problem that cuts across ages. Nowadays we have older people whose day starts with Facebook and not necessarily with Venkatesa Suprabhatam , as it might have done a decade ago. Yes, the mobile has captured our attention, imagination and hearts, hook, line and sinker! It is in this context that Vodafone has done a new piece of communication which says “Look Up”.

Look up at your partner

Watch this new video done for Valentine’s Day which is perhaps more interesting for picking on a theme that is universal and which everyone can relate to as it happens all the time in everyone’s lives; and that is about mobile phone usage. It takes a light-hearted look at how obsessed we are with phones so that, even when we are on a date with our loved one, we are peering anxiously at the mobile phone instead of looking lovingly at our partner’s face.

The communication starts at a fancy restaurant, where valets offer to take charge of your mobile phone for the time you are at the restaurant so that you can have undisturbed time and probably even talk (!) to your surprised partner! Unsurprisingly some mobile phone users decline the offer, saying that their boss might call, and so on.

Of course, a few others take up the offer. Obviously they enjoy the meal and, when interviewed later, relate a multitude of favourable experiences, ranging from how interesting their partner is without a mobile phone to how they actually looked at each other and what a fun time they had without the constant distraction of the phone.

While it is clearly a message for Valentine’s Day, there is a deeper message to all of us who seem to have difficulty in looking beyond our mobile screens, on how personal moments and relationships are getting badly hurt, thanks to this wonderful invention.

As communication goes, it is simple rather than dramatic. Clearly, it does not have the sophisticated execution that earlier Vodafone commercials do but, then, neither does this seem a communication for mass media.

Rather than get into the execution of the commercial, I would like to draw your attention to the fact that the TVC has universal appeal as it is based on the obsession of today’s youth with the mobile phone and it seems perfectly acceptable behaviour; usually, the other person is too busy to notice this as she is peering at her phone too! Insights like this get the following reaction from consumers: “wow, it’s really true. It’s about me. I can relate to this”. This is precisely what the communication gets by way of response from viewers, and that is its biggest success.

Insights are not new

Mobile services and their use have been a hot topic for years now for advertisers and ad agencies. I’m sure some of you remember the commercial for Airtel on a young person’s obsession with “missed calls”. A youngster’s car gets vandalised in a multiplex and, as the concerned youngsters hang around the car, the owner asks his friend if he has called the police. The young man replies that he has given a missed call to the police and they should soon call him back! This highly successful commercial, which made waves for Airtel, had youngsters look at the Airtel brand more seriously.

Back to Vodafone

Having discussed insights, let us go back to the original Vodafone communication. While it is interesting, the way to really engage with the consumers and demonstrate to them that Vodafone cares about them is to take the concept online, request people to share their experiences when they are not on the phone, have contests, write blogs, do cartoons and just about anything that can be done to ensure that the concept of “looking up” gathers momentum and steam so that it becomes a mass movement that the brand can eventually claim credit for.

Otherwise, it might just remain what it is now — an interesting piece of communication from a brand known for its creativity.