Cadbury has launched a new ‘global brand platform’ with a commercial from VCCP that features a kindly newsagent allowing a little girl to buy a bar of chocolate for her mum using buttons instead of money. Under the tagline ‘There’s a glass and a half in every one’ Cadbury is supposedly going to “show the human kindness in us all”, with a variety of activities to back the ad up, including a pop-up shop where people can exchange their own knick-knacks for chocolate, just like in the commercial.
It’s all a bit soppy for this cynic (and I have a big problem with the way it normalises the idea of a massive ‘family-size’ bar being appropriate for one person given current issues around diabetes and obesity), but moving the brand strategy on from its previous positioning around joy, to sharing and generosity seems fair enough – there were certainly plenty of people on Twitter over the weekend who enjoyed the ad.
But when Cadbury go a step further and try to trace a direct line from the principles of its founders to its current marketing, things get problematic. According to Marketing Week, Cadbury will “focus its marketing on the founding principles of the brand and its founder, philanthropist John Cadbury, by showing moments of ‘kindness and generosity’”.
Cadbury ‘brand equity lead’ Benazir Barlet-Batada tells MW this strategy will help the brand “reconnect” with the nation while also linking back to its founders’ philanthropic efforts in the 1800s. “Our founder John Cadbury was a philanthropist, and there are so many examples of acts of kindness that he did,” she says. “The best example is the creation of Bournville, where he provided homes for factory workers, there was a doctor’s surgery and cricket and football pitches. That was a real example of his generosity, and we want our new global brand platform to shine a light on our roots, but also shine a light on acts of kindness existing today.” This has been heralded in parts of the trade press as Cadbury reviving its “founding spirit of generosity”. Really? Whose generosity?
The problem I have with a lot of these ‘purpose-driven’ marketing efforts is that they shift the responsibility onto the consumer – we’re supposed to be the ones ‘giving back’ by (surprise, surprise) buying more chocolate. But what are Cadbury doing?
As Nick Asbury wrote for CR in this brilliant take-down of ‘brand purpose’ “It was Bill Bernbach, an advertiser from a different era, who said that a principle isn’t a principle until it costs you something. Today’s advertisers have magically turned that around – now a principle isn’t a principle until it makes you money.”
Paternalist capitalists such as the Cadburys, he pointed out, were driven “by a Victorian sense of duty… of course, there was self-interest involved – securing a better, happier workforce. But there was a sense of contributing to society for its own sake, even if it came at a cost – or especially if it came at a cost, because that’s what made it charitable and good.”
Building and maintaining Bourneville – with its housing, sports and leisure facilities, education and healthcare – came at a huge cost, both to the Cadbury company and personally to its family members. Unless today’s Cadbury – which is owned by the US giant Mondelez – is about to unveil plans to build affordable housing for all its workers, or go beyond its legal obligations when it comes to paying corporation tax, its current operations seem, shall we say, somewhat removed from these lofty ideals.
A marketing strategy that wants “to celebrate the little acts of kindness that happen every day’? Fine. But equating that with the committed principles that engendered Bourneville is stretching things, to put it mildly.
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