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Do ads have to show the product?
A Gorilla sparks controversy

The ad below has caused a lot of controversy in the 'ad world'.
A number of reasons, the most obvious being it lacks the 'oh so common' approach of the product in use.

Where's the bite and smile? Is it necessary?

Or is 'borrowed interest' enough to sell this product?

Below is one man's opinion.

Advertising: Spot the link between a gorilla and chocolate

The answer is that there isn't one - at least on the surface. Cadbury's latest advert for Dairy Milk will take quite a big risk by ignoring the product. Alex Benady goes behind the scenes

Published: 14 May 2007

Advertising has a surprising number of unwritten rules and conventions for an industry that prides itself on its left-field, out-of-the-box, blue-sky thinking. Cars must be shown speeding round hairpin bends. Haircare commercials are apparently obliged to feature a dodgy science sequence and there seems to be some law which says that banks have to be youthful, honest and in touch.

But chocolate advertising has long been blessed with a choice of clich├ęs. It can either make us drool in anticipation of its ineffable deliciousness or inspire us with the sight of happy people using the product to enhance their happy lives.

Soon on ITV1, Cadbury, the world's largest confectioner, will unveil a new advertising campaign for its milk chocolate that the company says is critical to both the Cadbury Dairy Milk brand and even the future of the company itself. "Everything we do with CDM is vital to the business because it's such an important part of our brand portfolio," says head of communications Tony Bilsborough. A mark of just how important is that the campaign is worth £9m, making it the biggest spend on chocolate for many years.

Yet the new commercial does not show chocolate; it doesn't show people eating chocolate; throughout its full 90 seconds, it doesn't mention the C word once. The film opens with a title, "A Glass And A Half Full Productions presents". Then we hear the opening bars of the Phil Collins hit "In the Air Tonight". The camera pulls back slowly to reveal that the new face of Cadbury Dairy Milk is in fact a gorilla. The effect is spooky and primal. As the big drum break starts, the camera pulls further back to reveal that the gorilla is hammering an enormous drum kit in a karaoke-style bangalong.

The film comes with impeccable creative credentials. Fallon is currently Campaign magazine's agency of the year. The client is Cadbury marketing supremo Phil Rumbol who was previously responsible for the hugely successful Stella Artois campaign at his last job as marketing director of InBev. And it was written and directed by Juan Cabral, whose Sony Balls and Paint ads made him the most awarded creative in the world last year.

It's such a pompous piece of music and the thrashing of the gorilla is so self-absorbed that the effect is hilarious. It's short-form comedy just like one of those funny clips you see on YouTube. But it seems to have precious little to do with chocolate.

And that is the whole point says Laurence Green, planning director of Fallon, the advertising agency behind the ad. People don't want advertisers droning on and on about their products any more; they want to be entertained. "Cadbury traditionally did well-built ads for the interruption age when consumers had an implicit media deal with advertisers. In exchange for free TV they would allow us to interrupt their programmes with commercials," says Green. "The nation has a massive soft spot for CDM and it is deeply embedded in the national psyche. For a brand that is so well known, it's arguable whether the old style interruption advertising model is the best model for the future. So we are trying to engage more genuinely with our audience."

But there is a product message in there too. In fact, the entire commercial is a product metaphor. "Chocolate is about joy and pleasure. For years Cadbury has told us that it was generous, through the glass and a half strap line. We thought, don't tell us how generous you are; show us. Don't tell us about joy; show us joy."

That's just what the campaign tries to do. "We've created a branded space in which Cadbury's can be generous in bringing joy," says Green. That may sound like adman's blather, but it a sign of an important philosophical shift in the way that advertising agencies are beginning to approach their work.

The traditional commercial was a scientifically modulated piece of communication in which consumer behaviour was scrutinised, product use closely studied and desired responses deliberated upon at length. In the new approach, almost anything can be inserted into the branded space as long as it is entertaining and brings joy. It's as if the agency has said "Sod it, forget the science. Let's just have a laugh."

It's a bit more thought out than that, says Green. "Advertising can be effective without a traditional 'message', 'proposition' or 'benefits'. Indeed, some of the latest advertising thinking suggests that attempts to impose them can actually reduce effectiveness. We are trading our traditional focus on proposition and persuasion in favour of deepening a relationship."

But it's still a gamble of heroic proportions, and given the importance of CDM and Cadbury's gaffe-strewn recent history, the stakes couldn't be higher.

We spend £1m a day on CDM in the UK, where it alone accounts for a seventh of the entire UK chocolate market. The new campaign aims to build long-term brand values, but it is also key to short-term sales. Due to the peculiarities of the chocolate market you get only one go at that a year, says Green. "You can't advertise chocolate in the summer. Easter and Christmas are separate markets, so the only chance to build the brand comes in late spring. This campaign will drive sales for the year."

Cadbury is ending its sponsorship of Coronation Street later this year, which will place an even greater burden on the campaign. So it simply must work. But CDM is Cadbury's flagship product. The company is part of the £7bn a year Cadbury Schweppes conglomerate which is being split into drinks and confectionery components.

What it cannot afford is any more of the blunders that have dogged it of late. Birmingham city council announced that it intends to prosecute Cadbury over last year's salmonella outbreak. Last month humiliatingly it had to withdraw a £5m launch campaign for Trident chewing gum because so many people found it offensive. In February the company had to recall thousands of Easter eggs which were distributed without nut allergy warnings. And in the same month Cadbury Schweppes' US operation was pilloried for a promotional treasure hunt which led consumers to a graveyard in Boston containing the remains of historic American figures.

An obvious question in regard to this latest campaign is whether any real gorillas were used. "No, it was a man in a gorilla suit," explains Green patiently. Despite its recent troubles the company says it has not been on banana skin alert. "We simply followed our normal due diligence," said Tony Bilsborough.

He doesn't explain how he will apologise to the nation if the new commercial sparks a Phil Collins revival. But the bigger risk is that the campaign is too far removed from conventional chocolate advertising to be effective. As one veteran Cadbury hand put it, "They get it right when the ads make you drool. Without chocolate, Cadbury ads lose their sensual appeal and along with that go sales."

It would be a shame if he is right, because our future ad breaks will be all the duller as a result.

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