And so farewell Cadbury. The nation’s favourite chocolate brand has been gobbled up by US processed cheese giant Kraft. Will we ever see your like again?
The news that Cadbury has fallen to the foreigners is obviously a major business story -it’s the biggest outside acquisition of a British business for at least two years. The weird thing is the effect that the news of Cadbury’s demise has had on the business-savvy brand junkies at CPB.
The overwhelming reaction here hasn’t been ‘Oh what are the new business opportunities?’ There hasn’t even been a dispassionate analysis of the new entity’s brand portfolio. No, it has been sadness. Anyone would think that Kraft had bayoneted our teddy bears from the reaction. It is only a slight exaggeration to say that people wept in the corridors while hardened brand warriors rent their clothes and tore out their hair, when they heard.
Sadness? Sadness? How can that be? In what way is that an appropriate reaction to a business takeover?
Of course there’s a jingoistic element to our collective response. “We don’t want foreigners taking over our brands,” said one sophisticated strategic planner who normally has a markedly global perspective.
Others cite concern for the Cadbury work force. “Kraft are paying too much and will have to make deep cuts to finance the purchase. I’m worried they will compromise the values of this ethical corporation.” said an ambitious young account exec.
But one of our account directors came closer to the truth when she said, “I hope they don’t mess with the chocolate. I don’t think I could bear it if they started to change Cadbury’s. It’s the best chocolate in the world. That’s how proper chocolate should taste.”
What she was saying was that Cadbury, the brand, doesn’t belong to Cadbury’ shareholders -or even Kraft’s. It is hers. It resides in her. As a child it defined the taste of how chocolate should be. It reminds her of parental love and infantile indulgence. Even as an adult it puts her in close touch with her inner child.
And that’s an important point for any brand owner to remember when they are considering tampering with their most famous products. Brands reside not in brand rooms or marketing plans or ad campaigns, but in the hearts and minds of consumers -and other stakeholders. If you mess with them, the response is unlikely to be measured and analytical. It will be emotional, visceral even.
Sadness is only the start of it. The next stage in the bereavement process is often anger. Brand owners beware.