In which we get nostalgic and a little Proustian about chocolate Easter eggs
Cadbury’s is one of those quintessentially British and Aussie brands. By which we mean a brand that hasn’t been British or Australian for ages, but which we’re all still daftly sentimental about. Regardless of any arguments about whether Dairy Milk was ever actually proper chocolate (or ‘vegelate’ or what-have-you), it’s what we knew and loved. That familiar, comforting taste could knock a madeleine into a cocked hat when it came to gustatory nostalgia. But no more. Having survived a sale first to US private equity and then to multinational foodstuff behemoth Kraft, Cadbury’s seems to have hit the skids in the hands of Mondelez (a conglomerate that even manages to sound like a moustachioed villain).
First they started playing around with Dairy Milk (what’s all that popping candy doing in it, anyway?). Then they shrank multi-packs of Crème Eggs from six to five while barely dropping the price. Even worse, the Dairy Milk in the eggs was surreptitiously replaced by ‘standard cocoa mix chocolate’. Numerous customers noticed the new ‘funny’ taste and a tabloid campaign was whipped up which winkled an admission out of Mondelez that the recipe had indeed been changed. An admission, but no apology – Mondelez pointed out rather tersely that ‘Crème Egg has never been called Dairy Milk Crème Egg [and] we have never played on the fact Dairy Milk chocolate was used.’
Since then, petitions have been launched, editorials declaimed, hopes raised that Mondelez may see the error of their ways. The ongoing media storm may be all good, knockabout fun (and perhaps the whole shindig is nothing more than a clever publicity campaign) but what’s clear is that it isn’t about ingredients or prices, it’s about brands.
CRÈME EGG isn’t just a recipe, or a product, or a name, logo or registered trade mark. It’s a brand. It’s an encapsulation of the whole consumer experience, based on all five senses. It’s a creature of the emotions and, to that extent, rightly or wrongly, belongs as much to its consumers as to its manufacturer. It’s a guarantee of quality and origin, an expectation of continuity. It’s a promise that what you bought yesterday will be the same as what you buy today and will buy tomorrow. And when that promise is broken, the brand is damaged – sometimes beyond repair.
What matters, ultimately, is consumer perception – if people think or ‘know’ that Crème Eggs taste wrong and so stop buying, that goes straight to the bottom line (you could, of course, say the same about the Crème Eggs themselves!) It doesn’t matter whether the new formulation is better or worse, nor whether it costs more or less to produce. It definitely doesn’t matter that the public’s response is wholly irrational. If the public thinks there’s a difference, then there is a difference, and Mondelez has got a problem. Tinkering with the Crème Egg recipe is tinkering with the CRÈME EGG brand, and that risks alienating consumers as much as it jeopardises a significant chunk of the value paid for Cadbury’s in the first place.
If anyone needs reminding about the emotional power of food, come and talk to us about the joy of an Easterful of Cadbury’s chocolate eggs – Proust has got nothing on us! So, purely in the interests of research, we conducted a quick taste test on a Wispa and a Crème Egg (both formerly made of Dairy Milk, now ‘standard cocoa mix’). They did indeed seem a bit thin and greasy, less creamy, less satisfying, less right… We’re not happy.
Brands are slippery, nebulous things at the best of times; even more so when they’re food brands. As we mused in our article about the TTIP, food is important to people and food producers need to be especially careful with their brands. They need to understand that their brands are more than just balance sheet entries or trade mark certificates – they’re part of our culture, our memories, ourselves, and they mess with them at their peril.