Advertising by spectacular is addiction to high stakes gambling

Who doesn’t love the Cadbury’s drumming monkey ad?

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It was 2007’s UK TV ad spectacular…

The choc-promoting surrealism of the creative geniuses at Fallon was the most admired and – by reputation – the most successful ad of 2008 by most accounts.

It was of course also a sleight of hand branding move. Cadburys was dogged by the salmonella scandal and its brand value was deemed to have suffered. It’s a strong brand, God knows – it’s one of the few I go goo-ey for at some level, deep down.

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Image by Chellbie

That purple. Mmmm. That simple, dependable, uncomplicated milk chocolate that followed me through my childhood. Ahhh. The curly lettered logo that was even on one of my Hornby train carriages. Mmm. Mentions of social reforming and Methodist good intentions in history lessons. Wow. Delicious and on the side of the angels too – what a brand.

Cadburys: Home. Simple, home pleasures. Lovely.

Anyway, that was deemed to be in danger, the story goes. Of course people would forgive and trust the brand again soon enough – it was practically part of the family. But they didn’t trust it as much this quarter as workthe equivalent last year. Sales had fallen.

So, time to bring in a work of genius. A work that would make its creators even more famous. That would win awards.

Out came the drumming man in a monkey suit… and glory shone around.

But what to do next?

The much-antIcipated (by marketers and people who write about marketers) sequel jumped onto the UK’s screens and the web not so long ago. As they’d won big on the monkey, Fallon and Cadburys felt like upping the stakes – they thought this could be bigger


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After the simplicity and straightforward, unexpected lunacy of the monkey that proved so successful, the creatives had reverted to ad industry type (treatment: page one: we open on a [insert exotic location here]) and went nuts with a when-airport-vehicles-go-wild concept set to a Queen track (which I will forever associate with a brilliant scene in Shaun of the Dead).

It was a bit of a let down by the accounts of those who know advertising better than I (Tom Hopkins is as eloquent as ever on the subject, in a post brilliantly headlined One Truck Pony).

It was spectacular alright, but no one was really bothered.

Tom follows up this post with a note about a Facebook ad for, of all things, the Cadbury’s Trucks ad:

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Apart from being an absolute copywriting car crash, doesn’t this Facebook ad for Cadbury’s Trucks campaign raise a question about what exactly the original ad was for.

I’m guessing the agency is getting a few of those ‘why didn’t it go viral?’ questions from the client and is trying to give it a little helping hand.

Absolutely. Even with a budget as big as Cadbury’s viral’s not a tactic, it’s an outcome. Or as Tom puts it:

Viral isn’t a method, it’s a mark of success

So if “viral” is the jackpot in the creative roulette game that is 30-second spot advertising what does the 18-month-average-tenure CMO of today do?

The pressure from the channel-thinking, creative agency-dominated culture of marketing as it stands is: put it all on red. Go for the spectacular. You’ve had a spectacular work out before? Great – let’s put it all on black this time…

Well if I were them, I’d start thinking like a creative studio and not a desperate high stakes gambling addict. Take your £20m budget and put some into safe bets and a portion in seeding ideas, programmes, creative approaches that might. Only a portion, mind you – holding back a reserve to put behind the bets that turn out to be contenders.

And another thing – the web is not an after-market for TV-focussed creative. If you start the planning process in the here and now, where people’s attention is and where the real conversations are… everything changes.

Comes back to brands as players in a markets for attention a bit, doesn’t it? A smart trader or investor in whatever market knows to hedge, to take a spread of positions, always ready to move to bolster one or more of those positions when they start to look like a contender.

Big brands should be thinking like a combination of a Hollywood Studio, a VC and a financial markets trader.

Oh yeah – and stop thinking in terms of campaigns. Just because they suit the business model of creative agencies doesn’t mean they are the most appropriate approach for a brand which has substance, reputation earned over lifetimes (e.g. Cadburys) and will continue to do so for years to come.