I was working with a big retail client last week. A company in a very good place. It has a splendid team. It is fixing all the residual internal things that need to be fixed. And soon – not quite yet – the team is eyeing a big, new national communications campaign. The fun part.
The brand in question is approaching this step for all the right reasons. The team understand the constant need to drive salience and the unerring gravitational requirements of excess share of voice. But they also want the warm, emotional glow that will surround their brand if they get the message right.
Part of my day with them was a discussion of the good and the bad examples of big brand advertising. We inevitably talked about Cadbury. Its IPA Grand Prix winning focus on generosity has proven the poster child for strategically derived, creatively powered emotional advertising and all it can do for demand, revenues, price premium and growth.
Each ad builds on the rich pre-established layers that already exist thereby garnering much greater effectiveness,
But it’s also advertising that has managed to bridge the esoteric world of purpose – the generosity part – and ground it in the quotidian world of buying the product. That’s important because you want to connect the dots as clearly as possible between the featured brand and intended associations. And because in the fleeting multiscreen, partial-brain, half-pissed world of the target consumer, the product must be the star of the story. Not just the sponsor. The days of an enthralling 60-second tale with an unexpected, entirely arbitrary brand reveal in the closing two seconds are surely now behind us.
I played the team my favourite of all the Cadbury ads: ‘Garage’. The one that went beyond anything I thought even their inestimable agency VCCP could produce. There is something in this ad that makes it lasting. Perhaps it is the spectacular, under-the-radar acting. Or that slight, initial threat of pervy menace. Or the way that the payoff… oh, what am I writing this for? Watch the ad for yourself and meet me after 60 seconds of commercial perfection.
I’d love to say this is a one-in-a-million ad. But it’s not a one-off. It’s a one-of-many. That’s the whole point. Cadbury has been dropping these slice-of-life generosity bombs for half a decade. From the gritty loveliness of ‘Mum’s Birthday’, where the daughter pays for her mum’s Dairy Milk bar with plastic buttons – and gets change. To the current majesty of ‘Speakerphone’ (see top of article), where a son helps his struggling Dad with a surprise in the glove box.
It’s not just that Cadbury has a single great ad. It’s that it has a campaign idea that can span the years with occasional new creative playing to the same brand positioning theme, over and over. Each ad builds on the rich pre-established layers that already exist thereby garnering much greater effectiveness, while laying the foundation for future ads as it does so.
Always different, always the same
We use the word ‘campaign’ too glibly. In marketing, everything is a campaign from the day it starts to the moment, usually a few months later, when it is wound up and forgotten. When used in its original military context, a campaign is a protracted, drawn-out thing that might involve many years of combat before any goal is achieved.
The Cadbury campaign is wonderful because it has – to use the classic agency aphorism – legs. The original idea spawned not just one jaw-dropping ad, it enabled a series of different messages to be told across different media with different tools for an infinite amount of time. Always different, always the same. I take nothing from Simon Connor and Steve Cross, the creative rock stars who wrote Garage. Indeed, I salute them. But they picked up their pens with 60% of the work for this ad already done. They were moving a ball forward, not inventing a wheel. And it’s to their credit they did it and did it so well.
It was not always that way with Cadbury. Almost two decades ago, long before Mondelez or VCCP existed, Cadbury had another hit campaign on their hands. Fallon’s famed creative supremo Juan Cabral wrote, designed and directed one of the most loved ads of the early 21st century. You probably remember it. A large gorilla sits impassively as the music begins to play and then…. oh, there I go again, writing what you could be watching. Enjoy this very enjoyable ad then let’s discuss what’s wrong with it.
It still works, doesn’t it? The idea behind the ad was, apparently, to aim for all communications to be “as effortlessly enjoyable as eating the bar itself”. I always assumed that was post-hoc BS and that it was just one of those ideas that came out of nowhere and just worked. And boy, did it work. Favourability for Cadbury spiked, sales jumped and the weirdly thrilling nature of the 90-second spot meant that organic replaying was the norm. And most of these benefits were accrued against an incredibly low media spend.
But the problem was what to follow it with. It was a singular, very special bit of communications and Cadbury squeezed every penny of value from it. But it was also an ad that had no obvious next step. Fallon tried with a strange, animated tale of ground support equipment rushing along a runway to Queen’s ‘Don’t Stop Me Now’ but it disappeared without a trace. Cadbury’s Gorilla had no legs.
Fallon tried again with ‘Eyebrow Dance’, this time with two kids and some special effects to the tune of Freestyle’s ‘Don’t Stop the Rock’. It was a better ad but there was no connection back to Gorilla and, in the esoteric search for something “enjoyable”, all connection with chocolate and the product was lost until the very last frame of the execution.
Don’t chase newness
The idea of long-term campaign-ability could and should be right up there as companies consider their next advertising step. In contrast, most marketers are too obsessed with newness and change at the expense of the gradual, long-term power of a campaign that has legs.
Too many newly arrived CMOs change agency. Too many just-promoted brand managers launch a new campaign. Too many marketers switch out their current ad because they are tired of it long before most of the target market have digested it. As we learn more about advertising, especially from the exceptional work being done over at System1, we learn that wear-out is not the issue that many in the industry once thought. Indeed, it may not be an issue with consumers at all. It’s only marketers that grow tired of their communications. Wear-out is their problem, not that of the market.
If you do seek new creative, then do it the Cadbury way, with a variation on a theme that can run for years, probably decades. Choose that option over a single, more successful orphan campaign, because in the long run it will serve your brand better. That perspective changes how we should look at advertising. The Tango ads beat the Guinness ‘Surfer’. Cinzano was a better campaign than Hovis. Renault Clio beats (puts crash helmet on) Apple’s ‘1984’.
Legs are underrated. A campaign means a campaign. An extended, multiyear challenge that gives a brand room to build layers of meaning and allows customers time to see, understand, appreciate and expect the brand.