Monkey business, not marketing

Cadbury’s Drumming Gorilla breaks all the rules of category advertising and, as a result, has won much attention. But will it sell Dairy Milk? asks Kate Cox

Kate%20Cox%20Media%20Planning%20GroupThere’s no doubt Cadbury’s “Drumming Gorilla” is a brilliant piece of film – it’s bizarre, intriguing, funny and smart. It has caused huge debate in offices across the country: something a piece of television creative hasn’t done for a while. But the discussion goes beyond admiration for the advertising. With ads like this (Honda Cog and Sony Balls are other oft-quoted ads), it is easy to see how the creative might be the driving force of change in brand perceptions or awareness of the product they are selling.

But really, a gorilla on drums? Sceptics suggest it’s a piece of creative and planning fluff that will not flog any more chocolate. Ardent advocates insist it reconnects Cadbury with “youth” and men – and plugs the company into the cultural zeitgeist.

Time will tell who is right, but the full story will probably never be told publicly – although I have no doubt the film will sweep the 2008 awards season. Yet, if I were to look into a crystal ball (and behind the scenes), I suspect the following scenarios would emerge…

First up is initial euphoria from client and agency: no one can ever really plan for a piece of creative to hit “tipping point” so quickly (although I have worked on many campaigns that have tried), followed by close monitoring of the additional column inches generated and hits on YouTube, with some poor planner frantically calculating the additional media value of this free space. (Incidentally, this ad made prime-time news in Spain – how do you evaluate the effect on Cadbury’s overseas sales?)

Closely following will be frantic behind-the-scenes discussions to keep ahead of the curve, finding ways of prolonging awareness generated by the campaign and linking it to the product: on-pack promotions, brand partnerships, video streaming the ad across the Web with coupons, perhaps. And then further discussions to work out “how to beat the gorilla” in new creative executions. After all, to succeed so quickly and spectacularly creates its own problems for client and agency.

So, from a media planning perspective, campaigns like this are great fun to work on: happy people at the client and creative agency, braver clients with slightly looser purse strings and willingness to buy “media innovation”, and enthused media-owner partners excited to take the brief.

Scroll on a few months, and the real results will start coming in. First up will be the advertising tracking results: a nice and positive meeting when everyone congratulates themselves for achieving the highest ever “awareness index” in the confectionery category since Cadbury’s Flake in 1976. Advertising awareness hits an all-time high and non-traditional targets, such as young men, start showing positive brand preference towards Cadbury’s Dairy Milk. Oh, and did I mention the film wins a Gold at Cannes, with great fun had by all on the Croiset?

But then, I suspect a few worrying signs will emerge. Perhaps the TNS Impulse panel data doesn’t show as high an uplift in sales as the brand tracker suggested it would. Perhaps Nielsen data highlights that uptake is lower than expected. And maybe this pattern of sales being consistently behind sparkling ad results will continue for a couple of years – until a change of client personnel and a new tack.

Why do I think this? Because I’ve seen it so many times. Advertising that breaks all category conventions is just too clever by half to flog chocolate. The link to any product truth is just not obvious enough for the average UK chocolate buyer to get. It is similar to other, fantastically talked about ad campaigns that didn’t sell product. “Whassup” didn’t address Budweiser’s brand perception problem in the UK as a weak, American lager and therefore did not successfully translate into “stellar” sales peaks; and “Noitulove”, the much-awarded Guinness execution, does not make young men in Yates’s drink more stout.

Boring as it is, advertising conventions that are clearly linked to a real brand product truth, and not just category ones, have become clichés simply because they work at selling the product. Yes, there is scope to break these conventions but not wholesale and not so far from the brand truth.

I hope I am wrong. I hope fun, excitement and innovation in creativity beats boring, old category cliché ads. For a start, I like working in happy, motivating team environments.

Kate Cox is strategy director at Media Planning Group

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