Cough up Cadbury

Brand purpose death by chocolate

The Blogfather is never shy to give both barrels to a huge corporate tax dodger. This time it’s Cadbury who feel his wrath, off the back of their ‘Donate your words’ campaign for Age UK.

The Blogfather loves a bit of Fruit & Nut as much as the next man, but the latest marketing campaign from Cadbury has left a rather sour aftertaste.

On the face of it, it’s all sweetness and light. You’ve probably seen it, as half of LinkedIn are blowing smoke up Cadbury’s arse about how great it is, but to recap: Cadbury have partnered with Age UK and removed the words from their limited edition Cadbury Dairy Milk bars to highlight the fact that thousands of older people often go a whole week without speaking to anyone.

Furthermore, 30p per every bar sold will go towards Age UK, and Cadbury are encouraging people to donate their words to make a difference to the lives of older people in their communities.

Before we give Cadbury a few volleys, from a design and marketing point of view it is a great, well-executed idea, and all for a good cause.

The fact that Cadbury can remove their brand and product name from their packaging, just leaving the iconic pouring milk icon, is indicative of how strong the brand is. It takes years and years to build that. Decades of consistent brand building.

Mark Ritson has just published a great blog on brand codes, off the back of this Cadbury campaign. The solid platform afforded to a brand from years of brand building gives them licence and ability to creatively play with brand codes to get them noticed even more.

It is something of a paradox, but by removing the brand name, you notice and realise this package is distinctly Cadbury even more.

Yet someone at Cadbury is clearly swigging on the brand purpose sauce too much, as they also put out this ridiculous Unity Bar to promote diversity.

And Willy Wonka might have been, to paraphrase Rory Sutherland, “bat shit crazy”, but at least he did file very thorough and fair tax returns*.


Having a brand purpose is fine, as long as it is true.

What grates about this campaign is that the owners of Cadbury reportedly paid ZERO corporation tax, despite reporting profits of over £185m. It makes the campaign just stink of virtue signalling.

Our small agency Gasp paid more corporation tax than Cadbury did.

I don’t doubt all those involved in the campaign are decent, well-meaning souls, but higher up the chain in the corporate shadows, someone is sanctioning the dodging of tax through privileged loopholes.

When you strip this all down you’re left with a Chocolate teapot brand purpose, so far removed from Cadbury’s incredible heritage of purpose going back to the early 19th century, when John Cadbury was trying to find alternatives to alcohol to sate the working classes because of the detrimental effects that drinking was having on society. Hence the creation of his chocolate.

And Willy Wonka might have been, to paraphrase Rory Sutherland, “bat shit crazy”, but at least he did file very thorough and fair tax returns*.

This stuff does need to be called out. It draws the parent company into the spotlight, and they should be held to account. But not many people are. Yet amongst all the LinkedIn sycophants, there are a few rebel voices calling this out for what it is.

David Lavelle, Managing Partner, Brass:

“Nice idea but it would be even nicer if Mondelez UK paid some UK Corporation tax! Paid nothing last year on profits of £185million and a bill of £35 million avoided. That would have paid for some home visits. Ultimately that means that this is sadly nothing but hypocritical virtue signalling.“

Gasp’s very own Giles Edwards:

“It’s hypocritical brand whitewashing. They’re wearing the “we help charity” mask, a misdirection, so we ignore their consistent tax dodging. It’s Marketing misdirection. Pay your taxes Mondelez.”

Matt Desmier, Strategist, Wise Old Uncle Limited:

“Cadbury's paying zero tax has an entirely detrimental impact on working class families of Britain. And that there is the problem with brand purpose. Because without the principles to back it up, purpose is nothing but empty rhetoric. Branding is about differentiating your product. It's about fulfilling a promise to your customer. If you're going to have a purpose, make sure you can back it up with principles or else it'll do more damage than good.”

Charlie Harris, Senior Freelance Copywriter:

“Mondelez sell around 350 million bars of Dairy Milk a year. How about they donate 30p per bar to pay all the corporation tax they haven’t been paying. That could then go towards paying for outreach services that help older people interact socially and so they get the chance to talk to more people. A glass and a half of milking it in every bar.”

All this talk of not paying tax and dodgy use of chocolate brings to mind the episode of I’m Alan Partridge when Alan has the tax inspectors round and offers them a well-rendered chocolate Marble Arch (‘I don’t avoid tax, I only evade tax – no, it’s the other way round’).

Our next podcast guest, Dave Harland, is a huge Partridge fan, just like we are at Gasp, so you are in for a bit of an Alan Partridge pimped up episode of our Call to Action podcast next week.

And if you want to hear about a company with a genuine and great brand purpose, then you need to listen to our current podcast chat with Giles Rhys Jones, the CMO of what3words, the human friendly GPS system that is used by the likes of Mercedes and the Emergency Services.

Curiously, the 3 word address for the Cadbury factory entrance in Birmingham is pay.your.taxes**.

But for now, I’ll leave the final word to industry legend Bill Bernbach:

"It’s not a principle until it costs you money".

*We have no access to Willy Wonka’s tax returns.

**This is not true.

I don’t doubt all those involved in the campaign are decent, well-meaning souls, but higher up the chain in the corporate shadows, someone is sanctioning the dodging of tax through privileged loopholes. 



If the Blogfather’s forthright opinion and pithy wit is to your liking, then click here, and we can keep you connected, if you know what we mean (what we actually mean is that we will send you an email to notify you every time he writes a new one, nothing heavy is going down).

And, if that’s not enough to sate your taste for our straight-talking ways, then you should listen to our Call to Action podcast. Released fortnightly, we talk to our heroes from the industry and beyond. And we’ve caught four of the most viewed TED Speakers so far and counting...

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