Not Such an Egg-ceptional Idea
"Five stars". "Unquestionable genius". "Mind-blowing". No, these snippets aren't my review of Benedict Cumberbatch's latest offering, or even Eddie Redmayne's; instead, they are my review of something much more important, namely Cadbury's Creme Eggs.
I, like many Brits, love a Cadbury Creme Egg. This enduring love affair began when I was a small child and would spend the last hour of the school day in the run up to Easter hoping to goodness that today would be the day my Mum had been to the shops on the way and had decided to treat me to one. Sometimes I was lucky and these were undoubtedly great days (ahhh, the simplicity of childhood!). This happy love affair was reinvigorated anew last year when I discovered, much to the delight of those I lived with, that Creme Egg brownies were the perfect accompaniment to pretty much every situation and could cure most ills.
But, I'm not writing this blog to share with you my obsession with the fondant-filled chocolatey eggs of heavenly wonder, at least not totally. More pressing is the news that Cadbury's owner, Mondelez International, has, in what is being taken as a further sign of the derision of Cadbury's core brand offering, changed the chocolate used to make the shells. No longer will they be made from Cadbury's famous Dairy Milk chocolate but instead from, as the Guardian puts it, "disgusting, foul, vomit-inducing', standard Kraft chocolate. For many American consumers, the change will slip by unnoticed as the eggs sold to the US market were not made from Dairy Milk. The news that Hershey's and Let's Buy British Imports have reached an agreement to halt the import of Cadbury's chocolate made in Britain has sparked yet more anger. Cafes, such as Tea & Sympathy in New York's Greenwich Village, who pride themselves on stocking imported Cadbury chocolate, are fuming. The New York Times picked up on this, quoting the owner of Tea & Sympathy decrying, "Things in the world are bad enough as it is, and now you're going to take away our chocolate".
When Kraft acquired Cadbury in 2010, it was amid much controversy. Cadbury, started in Birmingham in the 19th century, has long been a fixture in many British diets and in many British hearts. As a consequence, the acquisition of this bastion of Britishness by an American conglomerate upset many of its fiercely loyal customers who feared that the brand's integrity would be compromised. Kraft's closure of a British Cadbury factory in 2011, with the loss of 600 jobs, did little to quell these concerns. In light of this, it is perhaps unsurprising that the latest move has provoked a maelstrom of anger.
So, what can a brand with a loyal customer base do to help manage the reactions to changes following a take-over?
As BMW's acquisition of MINI has demonstrated, it is possible to reinvigorate an iconic offering for the 21st century market, and this tale has many similarities with that of Cadbury. A British brand (MINI) was bought out by an international giant (BMW), which then tampered with the core offering to produce a significantly altered product (the MINI today is a far cry from that which first rolled off the production line in 1959). But, the difference is that BMW managed the transition more effectively. In contrast to Kraft's factory closure, BMW uses three plants in England to manufacture the MINI's which are then exported globally. BMW also emphatically embraced the car's British links. For example, by producing ones with the union jack emblazoned on every side. These measures reassured customers about the influence and motives of the parent company.
Whilst Cadbury did try to manage the change in chocolate by announcing that "we tested the new one with consumers. It was found to be the best one for the Creme Egg." This statement was, as the media reaction demonstrates, of little or no help in quietening the dissatisfaction. It seems that many and I include myself in this number, jumped to a state of angry incredulity before even trying the new product. This shows that whilst this issue is, of course, about the product, it is also very much about the emotion associated with the product. Had Cadbury communicated its message better, it could have saved itself the drama, or at least contained the situation—a situation in which a Google search for "Cadbury Creme Egg" is now dominated by stories of this chocolate related scandal.
What these situations demonstrate then is that having a brand and product that is so established is both a blessing and a curse—a blessing because you have a solid and reliable customer base; a curse because they are reluctant for change. Your customers want you to be the brand they remember you always being, the one they have long relied on and think about with rose tinted glasses. Alongside respecting this, the business needs to move forward to continue to thrive in today's ever more competitive market place. The best way to align or manage this disjunction is through communication that reassures the customers that you still understand their needs, thus marrying up, or at least moving together, the two potentially disparate standpoints.