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Case Study: Cadbury Gorilla

Client: Cadbury 
Agency: Fallon
Award: Black & Yellow Pencils, TV & Cinema Advertising, D&AD Awards 2008

Cadbury Dairy Milk has been around for over a century and is nothing short of a national treasure, enjoyed by young and old alike. But no brand, no matter how popular, comfortable or comforting, can ever afford to stand still. ‘We sensed from all the research we were doing that, although people were still talking about their love for Dairy Milk, it felt a bit passive,’ explains Lee Rolston, Cadbury’s director of marketing for block chocolate and beverages.

‘It’s a bit like the comfy sweater you keep at the back of the wardrobe that you’ll never throw out but you start wearing less and less.’ Keen to reinvigorate the brand, Cadbury approached Fallon London in March 2007 with a clear, concise brief: ‘Get the love back’. The resulting Cadbury Gorilla TV advertising campaign cleaned up at numerous international advertising and design awards and secured itself both a Yellow Pencil and a Black Pencil at the D&AD Awards. 

Fallon’s response to the Cadbury Gorilla brief was that the communications should feel as good as eating the product itself. This immediately shifted the focus from the somewhat formulaic approach that had characterised previous Dairy Milk campaigns to an altogether more emotional one.

Rather than being seen as simply manufacturers of chocolate, Fallon’s concept repositioned Cadbury in terms of the end benefit of the product as ‘producers of happiness’. Seems obvious doesn't it but don't be fooled by the simplicity of the positioning. Happiness sells, but only if it's inspiring. See also Coke and Ben & Jerry's.

The campaign was due to go to air just two months later and Fallon was given just one week to come up with a concept. ‘Obviously, we jump at those opportunities, so we put a couple of creative teams, plus Juan Cabral, on the brief,’ recalls Chris Willingham, account handler for Fallon London.

Arriving at Glass and a Half Full Productions as an umbrella concept for the brand was very much part of a brainstorming session – but how was the leap made to a gorilla playing drums to the sounds of Phil Collins? It simply can’t be explained, according to Willingham. ‘There’s only so much method in the process and you then hand it on to fantastic creative minds – and that’s where Juan came in.

‘We had a pragmatic concern that it was just too far for Cadbury to go from where they were at that point; that there had to be some sort of stepping stone. But then we thought, “You know what? This is an opportunity, we should do what we feel is right rather than what we think they will think is right.”’ As it turned out, both Rolston and Phil Rumbol, marketing director for Cadbury UK, loved the idea. We were as close to punching the air as you can be,’ recalls Rolston. 

‘It was an idea that, at script stage, you felt rather than thought – but you just couldn’t help but listen to the feeling. ‘We presented two other very good ideas, both of which had chocolate at the heart of them, albeit in a slightly abstract way, and then there was Gorilla, which we presented last, and which was the real leftfield one,’ continues Willingham. ‘We expected them to be completely nonplussed but, to their credit, their faces lit up when we read the script and played the music.’

Cadbury Gorilla

But it wasn’t just a case of selling the idea to Rumbol and Rolston. They then had to sell it up through Cadbury, which was not easy, as this is a reasonably conservative company. As a flagship product that accounts for more than 50% of sales, Dairy Milk encapsulates the brand.

While there was a definite sense that it was time to move forwards, to move this far, this fast was a very big ask and took some convincing – not to mention four rounds of research. ‘For Rolston, the challenge lay in the fact that the idea diverged utterly from category conventions. There was no chocolate in the ad. There were no people demonstrating their experience of the product. ‘

We felt that the time was right for the brand to not tell people that it made you feel good – but to elicit that feeling. It was a challenge, but more and more the power of the creative won through, and in the pre-testing that we did, while it didn’t make much sense, it certainly elicited the feeling we were looking for and came through as incredibly powerful.’

What Cadbury bought into was much more than a single execution, however. The company embraced the much larger idea of Glass and a Half Full Productions: an on-going concept that could embrace anything that is as enjoyable as eating the chocolate in any media.

Gorilla was Juan Cabral’s vision in every sense of the word, so it made sense that it should also be his directorial debut. Cabral preferred to work on his own, rather than as one half of the traditional twosome of copywriter and art director. This was another big step – undoubtedly the right one. It not only saved time and money but, more importantly, it guaranteed Cabral’s pure vision of how Gorilla should be brought to life.

In terms of the practicalities of shooting the ad, there were a number of obstacles to overcome, not least Cabral’s absolute insistence on getting the very best gorilla suit in the world. The perfect suit was eventually tracked down in Los Angeles. It was the very suit used in Hollywood blockbusters such as Gorillas In The Mist and Congo and it came with no fewer than three operators – one inside the suit and two to operate it remotely.

Negotiating for these three people to pause their current projects and fly to London for the shoot was a feat in itself. Next came the task of teaching the person in the gorilla suit to play the drums convincingly; he had never touched a drum before. The unbearable heat inside the gorilla suit meant shooting was limited to only a couple of minutes at a time, before the operator would emerge, drenched in sweat, to be fanned down and rehydrated for the next session.

Securing the music, however, was uncharacteristically straightforward. Music negotiations are notoriously difficult, but getting Phil Collins to buy into the idea proved surprisingly easy – and benefited the artist tremendously. Once the ad broke, both the featured track and Collins’ Greatest Hits album rocketed back into the charts.

Despite the shoot’s slow progress, this wasn’t an especially expensive production. The shoot took place over two days and, aside from buying the music, the biggest cost was getting the suit and its three operatives over from LA and making sure it worked perfectly. The ad even came in on budget, another plaudit for the project.

Ninety seconds was the ideal length so they convinced the client, who then briefed media company Starcom, only to buy 90-second slots. Starcom came back with a schedule that was very low in terms of the actual number of spots. However, these were all peak-time, prestigious shows: the Rugby World Cup and the Big Brother final, to name just two. ‘Although they were low in quantity, because we cherry-picked the spots we were able to achieve fame on television, and then frequency came virally and through YouTube,’ says Willingham. ‘There was a scarcity about it so when it did come on it was a real event.’

The launch of Gorilla was even advertised in newspapers and online. The notion of advertising an ad may seem strange and is still a rarity in the industry; however, ‘If it’s good enough, then why shouldn’t you treat it in the same way and launch it as you would a film or a TV programme?’ And it was certainly good enough.

Posting on YouTube started on the night of the Big Brother final and by the following day there had been some 100,000 hits. That figure has now topped 12 million. Then the spoofs started. To date, more than 300 spoof versions of Gorilla have been posted online: a clear demonstration of the lengths people are prepared to go to for a piece of advertising.

Watch Fallon's Cadbury Dairy Milk Gorilla advert here.

"Gorilla broke the mould in many respects and is still getting hits on YouTube a year later, so it’s lived way beyond the conventional television advertising campaign."

Chris Willingham
Account Handler
Fallon London

This viral potency has given Gorilla an enormous extra impact; predominantly free media. ‘It’s an excellent model – to spend money on the production of something great, to showcase it in a small number of top spots on TV and then wait for the viral effect to really deliver the full impact,’ observes Willingham.

The team followed up the initial Gorilla ad with the Airport Trucks campaign, but the demand for Gorilla was so great that he had to be brought back.

The success of the campaign can be seen way beyond its on-screen success. ‘In the short term we saw a rise of about 9% and certainly as we’ve aired it again, and its successor Trucks, we have seen a gradual, consistent build in sales of the brand,’ says Rolston. ‘We have also seen a real turnaround in terms of brand preference, so there has been a really positive commercial aspect to this as well as a positive brand response.’

Gorilla was a complete and unique piece of film, so its success was initially hard to assess, according to Rolston. But now that understanding will inform more of Cadbury’s future campaigns.

As for the future, the relationship between Fallon London and Cadbury continues apace, and it's not just Dairy Milk. Fallon has been Cadbury UK's agency since 2007 and works on all brands including Maynards, Wispa, Twirl, Flake, Trebor and The Natural Confectionery Company. ‘Everyone believes in it and when you’ve got that shared belief in something, I think the relationship tends to be very strong,’ concludes Willingham. ‘There’s a lot of trust in us, having succeeded with Gorilla, to make this idea sing again.’

If you think you have a campaign that deserves a Pencil, enter your work into the D&AD Awards and see if our judges agree. When it comes to awards, nothing matters more.

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