Mo the Meerkat: A Face Only A Mother Could Love

Mo the meerkat

Vodacom is the leading and first cellular network in South Africa, with an estimated market share of 58% and more than 23 million customers.  I came across Vodacom while browsing through Zoopy, South Africa’s first video and photo sharing social network.  An online and mobile social media site, Zoopy is doing pretty darn well in South Africa with no signs of letting down!  On June 26 2008, Vodacom purchased a 40% share stake in Zoopy and increased their stake to 75% on February 13 2009.   Holding such a high stake in the company, it’s no wonder that Vodacom receives prime (and sole) ad space on Zoopy.

A new ad campaign by Vodacom (which I originally found on Zoopy) is called “Connect to Fame.”  The campaign announces that you could be “internet famous with Vodacom…It’s easy, Your dance video could become part of the next TV ad” and you could win the grand prize of R300 000 (which equates to a little over $35,000).  Before I go any further, a recap of Vodacom’s recent history and relationship with its consumers is necessary…

In 2006, Mo the Meerkat was released as the new face of Vodacom.  That same year, the Sunday Times 2006 Generation Next survey, which is claimed to be “the most comprehensive research into kids’ brands in the country,” awarded Vodacom with the Coolest Telecommunications Provider Award.  Mo the Meerkat was proclaimed the third Coolest Brand Icon, “after David Beckham, and Simba the Lion”…seriously!?

Even the president of Vodacom was smitten with Mo, short for Maurice.  He was cited as gushing over how the youth just loves the meerkat. Well, why don’t you be the judge.  Check out a couple of ads featuring Mo for yourself:

Suffice it to say, Mo was not as well received by the ‘youthful generation’ of South Africa as the 55 year old president of the company had believed.  A Facebook group entitled “I [expletive] hate the animated meerkat from Vodacom” was established and to date has almost 15,000 members.  Many people have come forward online to tell how much they dislike Mo the meerkat from all of the Vodacom commercials.  Haters even went so far as to plot his death (animated, of course) and post it on YouTube.

All of this online chatter made for high ranking searches galore.  Even now, the first page and first link of a google search for Mo the Meerkat leads one to websites that declare hatred on the creature like “No to Mo...”; “STOOPID MEERKAT.  Kill Mo” and even the YouTube video that plots his death. The power of online social communities is huge.

It is my understanding that Mo was eventually fired … although there is some evidence he could still be linked to the company.  In any case, this leads us to present day where Vodacom has newly launched its campaign “Connect to Fame” in which it is clearly trying (and struggling) to get its name and reputation back with its young audience.

Sorry, Vodacom, but it looks like you failed once again!

The July 2008 campaign launch is not only based on a song that has reached its peak of popularity months ago (“Single Ladies” was great in its heyday!), but it also created a lot of customer anticipation when before actually announcing the details of the campaign leading some customers to believe that rates would be cut or better plans would be presented.  This caused a lot of customers to be very disappointed.

Vodacom is the leading cellular network in South Africa, and luckily has a strong foothold in its market.  However, even though they are a big company, they still must be strategic in their marketing strategies and listen to its customers.  They are on the right track with the idea behind their new campaign by allowing the  consumer to participate in the conversation.  The anticipation leading up to the campaign announcement was very misleading and therefore detrimental to the overall campaign (not to mention based on a song that has already come and gone in the fast paced music-hit industry).  Only time will tell for this ad campaign in particular which ends in August.  But, I have a strong feeling it will sink.

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4 Responses to Mo the Meerkat: A Face Only A Mother Could Love

  1. juliaccartwright says:

    Great post – very amusing. This is a great example of corporate executives assuming what is “cool” and spinning it without focus grouping their key audiences. The campaign was lame and the youth they were targeting smelled it from ten kilometers away.

  2. Jason says:

    Quite an informative post, with a fair amount of research that obviously went into writing it. However, I need to correct the statement that Vodacom is the sole advertiser on Zoopy. We have multiple rotating advertisers in banner spots on the site but also many custom channel sponsors e.g. http://www.zoopy.com/mitsubishi and http://www.zoopy.com/privateproperty.

  3. Nice job honing in on a single brand this week and taking us through their evolution and issues that they have faced in the South African market. There are many lessons in this case study for other brands, particularly that using social media to listen to consumer opinions is a big deal. The only thing that could make this even stronger is to find any numbers to support the point that even though Vodaphone is the leader in the market, their missteps may have cost them some market share or real dollars. I realize these numbers may be hard to find, though – so nice job on the post overall. (4)

  4. mintybeth says:

    I found the Vodacom “Connect to Fame” post online and never could figure out what to make of it. The guy in the ads seems to be poking fun at the song and at the dancing, plus he is a caricature, not a real person. I don’t know what Vodacom hoped to do with this promotion, but having mothers submit videos of their kids gyrating and hitting their asses just didn’t sit right with me. It had wrong written all over it. Someone seriously needs to give the company some much overdue social media and public relations training. I would say that going back to PR 101 wouldn’t be far enough!

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