Over the years, my company has worked with a great many heritage brands – from Horlicks to Gordon’s Gin, Hovis, Selfridges, R White’s Lemonade and of course Wispa. I understand, as a consequence, that these sorts of brands – usually on the back of iconic advertising campaigns and careful PR that pushes all the least sickly nostalgia buttons – connect with the public deeply, right in the heart.
But big business does not run on warm and fuzzy feelings of love born of fond memories of adverts and childhood fun. The Cadbury brand has long ceased to be a family brand. It may be national icon, but we can cross off yet another heritage item from the – now very short – list of British brands.
Will it make a difference that it is foreign owned? In the long term, not really, I think. The most recent ‘owners’ had no affinity with the brand. They were not part of the Cadbury family, merely caretakers, who have now lined their pockets with plenty of silver. And the chocolate will taste the same, wherever it’s made. The truth is that there are almost
The worry with Cadbury is much more that there is every chance that the owners will have no respect for the human element of the company and see the deal purely as a way to service debt and make money. What the Glazers have done to Manchester United is a travesty and there’s no reason to believe that Kraft won’t do the same.
The only winners are the senior people at Cadbury, who will get a fat payout, and those who invested in shares. The workers will most likely eventually be left standing, redundant, outside the factory gates.
The Cadbury brand has only been kept alive by a chocoholic public. Will they stop buying Cadbury chocolates now that the Americans own it? A few diehards may cause a short blip, but in time, it will recover, depending on what Kraft do next. What Kraft will most likely do is bring in more business-focused expertise, attempt to make the brand more profitable and play with evolving communications and marketing.
Losing a great British brand to a foreign investor may massively jeopardise the emotional connection and nostalgic appeal that the consumer has with the brand. Cadbury has been a part of the fabric of British culture for years and its demise is like losing a trusted friend. This may well have a significant impact on social media as I don’t believe consumers will feel a part of the change; therefore they will not be engaged or empowered to join the brand conversation.
Consumers trust heritage brands and Kraft has a big job ahead to build up a new trust relationship with the UK audience. Social networking, which the Americans will doubtless utilise ruthlessly, will have to be made to work harder and will become even more important for foreign brand owners to embrace. Foreign owners will not have near the same level of respect as their financial objectives are so clearly the driving force behind this deal, at the expense of human and emotional issues such as jobs and brand character – which the consumer relates to most.
Kraft have won the first stage of the PR battle hands down – they have Cadburys and will be moving it onwards. If that means asset stripping or careful nurture of a brand remains to be seen.