Trucks and Gorillas

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by: Jonathan Salem Baskin

Cadbury Dairy Milk has released its latest piece of entertainment, this time featuring airport vehicles racing down a runway to the strains of Queen’s "Don’t Stop Me Now."

Clearly, nobody can stop these guys. They’re the folks who brought us a gorilla drumming to Phil Collins’ "In the Air Tonight.

But they sell chocolate bars.

I wrote about the musical ape last year, sharing my dim expectation that an ad should have at least some vague, tangential, or even, gasp, meaningful selling message for a product or service. 

That’s not what the braintrust at Cadbury believes. Here’s what the marketing director responsible for the latest ad said when it was "debuted" late last month:

"We’ve brought the high speed excitement of a Hollywood car chase to these slow-moving airport trucks. It’s a magical piece of film designed to bring a smile to your face. The production is set to make unlikely stars out of the humble airport trucks much as we did with our drumming gorilla."

But they sell chocolate bars.

2007 wasn’t a great year for Cadbury, as it reported a 2.1% drop in operating profit for the year, and cancelled plans for a profit return to shareholders. Its Dairy Milk brand did well, though, with solid growth in the UK and emerging markets.

Did the gorilla ad contribute to those sales? To its credit, the company simply cites the results as being due to "strong growth." So it was successful because, well, it succeeded. Brilliant.

There sure was some buzz about it among creative types, and there’s an argument that there’s no such thing as bad publicity. Even my dissing it contributed to brand awareness, so the traditional logic goes.

But they sell chocolate bars.

I suspect there’s a lot more going on in the business, or around it, that prompted the sales success: new distribution, better merchandising, competitive pricing, competitor difficulties. Or the results could simply benefit from a year-over-year comparison to an utterly awful 2006. The bold plans for 2008 call mostly for cost-reduction, which doesn’t bode well for company hopes for ads that don’t really sell its products.

My guess is that company brass don’t have a model that connects its branding to its business. It probably measures awareness, broadly, and has some math to correlate it to sales, generally. But the rest of the rationale is found in its agency creative and stacks of press clippings. 

And if and when sales sputter next year, Cadbury will cancel the next iteration of its inane ads, and focus instad on propping up the real drivers of its business. Creative people will cry foul. Brand gurus will slam them for being so short-sighted and looking at sales. The entertainment-as-content brokers will shudder when they lose one of the obvious targets for re-selling other aging rocker hits.

And the world will be without a new piece of entertainment…er….i mean, advertising, don’t I?

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