Cadbury’s Gorilla & Trucks – what can we learn from neuro-psychology?

Phil Barden, managing director of Decode Marketing, analyses Cadbury’s famous creatives through a neuroscientific assessment of consumers

“Chocolate is about joy and pleasure. Don’t tell us about joy, show us joy” was Fallon’s response to Cadbury’s desire to “get the love back”. Gorilla has certainly passed into folklore, winning numerous creative awards.

More importantly, what did consumers make of it and do as a result of the advertising – and how did client and agency build on its reputed success? Was it successful? That, of course, depends on the criteria for success. In terms of YouTube views and ’talkability’ it certainly had an impact on consumers but did it meet the brief and affect sales?

Let’s start with the brief. In our view, “rediscover the joy” was open to interpretation because ’joy’ has many possible connotations. The joy of parenthood feels different to the joy of discovery which, in turn, feels different to the joy of winning. Which feeling did Cadbury want? Unless this is defined, agency creatives will work with their own interpretation – and create signals that the brains of consumers will decode accordingly.

Neuroscience teaches that there are two systems in the brain; the ’explicit’ (or pilot) system and the ’implicit’ (or autopilot). Our work as a consultancy focuses on the ’implicit’, a system so powerful that it’s responsible for more than 90% of our decision-taking.

The implicit decodes the patterns and signals that a brand sends, and gives them meaning. It’s now obvious that we must understand, access and measure this if we want to know what makes brands successful. As marketers, we’ve not done this in the past simply because the techniques weren’t available, nor the knowledge to apply them. Now they are.

Earlier this year, we researched the implicit systems of purchasers and consumers of block chocolate. The output provided attributes to populate a neuro-psychological ’reward’ map (used to explain human behaviour and the way that we assign personalities to people – and to brands). It also yielded the ’implicit reward profile’ for Cadbury’s Dairy Milk (CDM), with its key neuro-psychological drivers of behaviour, and the profiles for the Gorilla and Trucks TV ads. The results make fascinating reading.

As can be seen in our map, CDM is synonymous with the category. Hardly surprising as, arguably, CDM created and is the block milk chocolate category in the UK. The core rewards for CDM are Tradition, Trust, Warmth, Sociable, Enjoyment, Relaxation and Fun. However, when Gorilla and Trucks were mapped it appears that Cadbury was attempting radically to re-position CDM.

Possibly, Cadbury had evidence that the category was shifting towards the reward fields known as ’Adventure’ and ’Excitement’ and away from its heartland (’Enjoyment’ and ’Security’). If so, these ads do a very good job. If not, then there are some worrying findings.

Gorilla scores highly on attributes such as Courageous, Rebellious, Adventure, Powerful, Alive & Kicking and Creative but negatively on the core rewards for CDM/Chocolate. When the signals from the ad are decoded this is unsurprising; there’s a powerful beast in an ecstasy of drumming. Unfortunately, these rewards and signals are dissonant with the category and CDM as a brand.

That’s why typical ’explicit’ measures that we also tested were low – a top box score of 41% for purchase intent amongst loyal consumers is poor. What’s more worrying for Cadbury is how ’occasional’ consumers reacted. One assumes that they were the target market for rediscovering the ’joy’ – volume is normally easier to obtain from light users than from trying to persuade heavy users to increase their average weight of purchase – but a top box of only 3% for purchase intent shows them unmoved, whilst 10% said the ad actually made them ’less likely’ to buy. The ’talkability’ effect is seen in the 51% of loyals who said that they’d definitely talk about the ad; however, amongst occasionals, this figure was only 10% and, indeed, 13% said they would definitely not talk about the ad.

Let’s assume that our data is wrong. One would expect Cadbury and Fallon to have distilled the essence of what made Gorilla work, for subsequent ads – if you’ve got a winning formula why change strategy?

So, then, how did Trucks perform in our research? The attribute scores were more extreme than Gorilla, even further from the core of CDM. Attributes such as Rebellious, Adventure, Competitive and Thrilling scored highly but core rewards suffered; even Fun scored negatively.

Again, decoding the ad unlocks the signals that cause this – it’s like a race in an action movie – but the action takes place with no involvement of the product or brand, which is born out in the ’explicit’ measures. 20% of loyals said they didn’t recognise the brand ’at all’ and this rose to 48% for occasionals. More concerning are the top box purchase intent figures of 34% (loyals) and 0% (occasional).

Our research shows that Gorilla was indeed seen as creative, modern, different and with high talkability. But are those qualities of any value in themselves? Do the semantics that the creativity delivers work for the category and the brand? Gorilla’s and Trucks signals are all opposite to Security and Enjoyment in the neuro-psychological reward map. That’s fine if Cadbury knew that the motivations for purchasing the category were shifting away from its historic core. Our research indicates otherwise, however, with explicit measures such as ’I will buy’, ’For me’ and ’Trust’ all showing decline.

So did Gorilla drive sales? According to Cadbury’s Report & Accounts, a product recall and a hot summer were the prior year backdrop so, unfortunately, the effect of Gorilla on Dairy Milk sales cannot be calculated with confidence.
In our experience it’s key for a brand’s signals to be consistent with the implicit rewards of the category – decoded as chocolate and the experiential rewards that its consumption delivers. We often see this sort of ’implementation gap’ opening up between strategy and execution because clients and agencies typically do not address the ’implicit’.

Our brains are powerful things, they just need to be sent the right signals.



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