How Word-Of-Mouth Rescued Cadbury From Infamy

Hydar Saharudin
Hydar Saharudin
August 8, 2016
2 min read
How Word-Of-Mouth Rescued Cadbury From Infamy

In this article


Chocolate is life. It really is. It’s triggered the rise and fall of empires, revolutions, countries, relationships, and of course, waistlines.

Chocolate is as natural to our psyche as Pokémon and cat photos are. And perhaps, this was why public backlash against Cadbury risked sentencing the chocolate-maker to commercial and cultural oblivion.

You see, in mid-2006, the UK-based Cadbury suffered a salmonella outbreak in its English factories. It took six months for Cadbury to alert the public about the danger from its candy bars.

The salmonella scare cost Cadbury millions in sales and fines. In addition, its reputation took a severe pounding.

2006 should have been the death year of Cadbury – but it wasn’t. Today, the organization remains one of the world’s top confectionary brands, beloved by many.

And crucial to Cadbury’s triumphant resurrection was its use of word-of-mouth marketing.

Let’s take a look at how word-of-mouth rescued Cadbury.

Provoking positive chat was the cornerstone of Cadbury Marketing Strategy:

1. Screw chocolates! Get The Gorilla In Here!

In response to an almost tattered reputation and declining sales, Cadbury sought to reinvigorate its brand. In 2007, it employed Fallon London, an advertising agency, to direct its marketing overhaul.

This partnership resulted in one of modern history’s most viral advertisements: the Cadbury Gorilla.

We’ve all seen the ad. Basically, it’s a gorilla passionately playing the drums to Phil Collins’ In The Air Tonight. The closest connection to Cadbury in that ad, apart from its logo and slogan, was the purple backdrop.

Clearly, the ape had little to do with chocolate. Indeed, Lee Rolston, Cadbury’s director of marketing, worried that the campaign was “just too far for Cadbury to go from where they were at that point”.

But it was exactly that element of randomness that propelled the Cadbury Gorilla to iconic status. “It was an idea,” Rolston continued, “that […] you felt [and] couldn’t help but listen”.

The Cadbury Gorilla did wonders to Cadbury sales and brand image. It also garnered dozens of awards and millions of views.

The ad was what you’d show to your colleagues during lunch. It was what you’d use to entertain your nieces and nephews. And it was you’d share with friends.

Because we love Phil.

In other words, the Cadbury Gorilla had an enduring, transcendent appeal rarely seen for its time.

More importantly, people talked about the Gorilla, and not the salmonella.

2. Becoming One Of The First To Enter And Engage Social Media

Of all the players in the confectionary industry, Cadbury took to social media like fries to a hamburger.

Apart from maintaining an active presence on the major social media channels, Cadbury is famously responsive to its fan-base and their sugary cravings.

In 2007, a year after the Salmonella controversy, the company re-introduced its Wispa chocolates after widespread demand for it on Facebook and MySpace. Naturally, fans of Wispa were ecstatic.

On Twitter, Cadbury easily connects with its fans and customers through prompt replies and the daily sharing of viral, light-hearted content.

It also organizes numerous Twitter campaigns, leveraging on the site’s penchant for catchy hashtags (e.g. #FreeTheJoy, #JoyCabs, #MayThe4thBeWithYou).


Cadbury’s approach to social media creates an approachable brand image—fun, welcoming, mainstream, and inoffensively popular.

Through social media, Cadbury is able to generate positive word-of-mouth. It now hears, listens, and talks to its fans.

It’s no surprise then that Cadbury was voted as the “top social media firm” in the food and drink industry.

3. Integrating its marketing tools To Defy Crises And Change Consumer Perceptions

As if foreshadowing its management of the 2006 salmonella storm, in October 2003, Cadbury faced another crisis in India.

A leading brand in the Indian confectionary market, Cadbury chocolates were infected with worms, just a month before Diwali.

To be fair to Cadbury though, the infection was the result of retail stores placing Cadbury products beside items vulnerable to the little critters.

Cadbury took responsibility for the problem, and launched an integrated campaign targeted at the media and customers, retail outlets, and its own employees.

Cadbury introduced more secure packaging for its candies. It also invited journalists to compare and evaluate old and new Cadbury packaging.

Cleverly, Cadbury drafted acclaimed Bollywood actor Amitabh Bachchan as its brand ambassador in a well-crafted ad. Bachchan, known for his authoritative aura, offered a sense of integrity and assurance to Cadbury’s image in India.

Cadbury’s crisis management was a resounding success. It was able to counter any negative word-of-mouth. Post-crisis surveys also revealed positive changes in customer behavior, with many reported as willing to trust Cadbury and purchase its sweets.

The sheer effort Cadbury placed in regaining its Indian customers won them over, an amazing achievement considering how unforgiving that segment can be when it comes to corporate negligence and mismanagement.

Recap: How Word of Mouth rescued Cadbury from Infamy

  1. Virality isn't necessarily a bad thing. Producing content that can be shared by diverse groups of people will raise your brand's profile, and allow you to steer conversations about it.
  2. Be responsive on social media. It's not enough anymore to just post some link or meme on Facebook. Listen and talk to your customers and fans.
  3. When in crisis, engage all the relevant parties. Act and take action.
Hydar Saharudin
Hydar Saharudin

Hydar reads History at Nanyang Technological University. He likes cats and Cersei Lannister.

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