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Cadbury has been working with Age UK for a few years, but with lockdown looming, empathy with elders facing continual isolation has never been more important. 

Talking with Colin O’Toole, Associate Director of Marketing at Cadbury, and the two Creative directors on the Cadbury account at VCCP, Jonny Parker and Chris Birch, we gain some insight behind the immense trust required to launch a campaign like this, how VCCP sold the idea for The Originals with only half a pitch deck, and a pandemic looming on the horizon.

Cadbury is, for all intents and purposes, a brand that is more than the sum of its parts. As a household name in the UK, it’s not enough for Cadbury to just make ads about the product...people already know what kind of choccys they like when they go to the corner store. The goal of advertising Cadbury chocolate is, instead, to establish its cultural nuance, to dive into what makes this brand important, not just to the consumer, but to the country. 

Cadbury – Donate Your Words: The Original

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“The brand was founded in the Victorian Era so that people could have a good life. It was built from the ground up with the goal of improving the lives of its employees,” says Colin O’Toole, Associate Director of Marketing working for Cadbury. Britain's people have always been a part of the Cadbury plan.

[We] were sitting in this big board room with a massive portrait of John Cadbury staring down at us. He was basically saying ‘don’t fuck this one up’. We didn’t realize then how important this campaign would become. How much of a responsibility it is.

“There’s a history that comes along with the brand, it’s synonymous with UK culture,” remarks Chris Birch, one of the Creative Directors working on the Cadbury account at VCCP. “And when we see problems affecting our culture, we have a duty to help.”

The impetus was a harrowing statistic reported by Age UK. Almost 1.5 million seniors state that they feel lonely in their everyday life. Nearly 15% of those seniors say that they often go a whole week without speaking to anyone else. Partnering with Age UK was the first step Cadbury took. The Donate Your Words campaign has been running for two years, and after their massive success with Wordless Chocolate Bar initiative and 2019’s ad Fence, VCCP knew that this next ad had to deliver.

Cadbury – Fence

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The pressure didn’t ease up either. Around the same time Birch and Johnny Parker (the second VCCP Creative Director on the Cadbury account) were still ideating the next ad, the pandemic had begun to spread steadily closer to home. Suddenly, seniors were even more at risk of loneliness than ever before. “We were obligated to make this ad [The Originals],” Parker says, “it was no longer an opportunity to do good work with Cadbury’s legacy, but an imperative.” He laughs and remembers when he first went into the Cadbury offices. “Me and Chris were sitting in this big board room with a massive portrait of John Cadbury staring down at us. He was basically saying ‘don’t fuck this one up’. We didn’t realize then how important this campaign would become. How much of a responsibility it is.” 

The goal of advertising Cadbury chocolates is, instead, to establish its cultural nuance, to dive into what makes this brand important, not just to the consumer, but to the country. 

When asked why Age UK, the answer was simple. Colin O’Toole, Chief Marketing Officer working with Cadbury explains that they wanted to make an impact. Age UK had the reach, the name recognition, and the trust of the people. “It was heartwarming to be able to align Cadbury with this charity and help shine a light on the great work Age UK is doing,” he says, “Age UK is made up of volunteers who show up every single day to help the elderly, raising money, checking in... that’s a good thing to recognize.” 

He goes on to explain that the statistics support the work. It’s not just the returns Cadbury sees, but how they’re able to return the favor. The VCCP creatives chime in here. The dedication to service, to helping each other, makes it all the more important to say the things we need to say and to give seniors space to share their voice. The ad has to take steps towards actually solving the problem. 

We’re only as good as the client lets us be. We’ve worked in the industry for twenty years and many clients don’t allow you to reach the potential. Cadbury has been a brilliant client, and that’s really why they get brilliant work

“Especially during lockdown, it became clear we needed to really tell the right story,” O’Toole says, “You may be out of lockdown in a month or so, but will these people? Year after year, trapped in isolation. What VCCP did was put a positive spin on it.” Instead of talking about the weather, the routine, the agency dug deeper. They went for generosity over negativity, kindness over fear. Even though the last ad, Fence, was charming and kind, Parker agrees, “It was important to change our tone.” 

There was a flood of these stories from everyone, which meant that we featured people sharing their real, genuine experience. These stories are all out there. These people could be your neighbor.

When they pitched this new Donate Your Words campaign, Birch recalls, “I had barely read a quarter of the script before Colin interrupted and said ‘oh my god, I love this, how much do you need?’ I’ve never been interrupted by someone saying it was wonderful! Clearly, positivity was key from the start.” Six weeks later, they had made the film.

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Above: Slides from the pitch deck presented to Cadbury.


When asked about how they had found the seniors for the film, the guys all laugh. There was an outpouring of stories, memoirs, and recommendations. They received so many responses that they couldn’t possibly include them all. Parker says, “[Production company] Academy found all the people who shared their stories. There was a lot of street casting and combing through social media, just asking... do you know any old people who have incredible stories? There was a flood of these stories from everyone, which meant that we featured people sharing their real, genuine experience. These stories are all out there. These people could be your neighbor.”

When going from pitching to completion in six weeks, there’s a lot of trust involved. The brand has to trust the agency, has to trust the production company, has to trust the director. Luckily Birch and Parker benefitted from a successful relationship with Cadbury, and the decision to let them have the reigns was an easy one to make. O’Toole mentions that it was his job just to get out of the way. When asked for a bigger budget, O’Toole was the one who went back to Cadbury and worked it out, without even seeing a final script. It’s not that he’s a pushover, it’s that VCCP got results. There’s a trust between the group of men that really underlines how important it is, and how valuable it is, to allow creatives the chance to perform to their highest ability.

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Above: More slides from the pitch deck presented to Cadbury.


Parker agrees, “We’re only as good as the client lets us be. We’ve worked in the industry for twenty years and many clients don’t allow you to reach the potential. Cadbury has been a brilliant client, and that’s really why they get brilliant work.” 

And there are moments of brilliance in the work. The decision to leave things unsaid, in particular, emphasized that there was always something more to the story. Without a script, the elderly people featured were given space to speak about their life and their truths. From the ad itself to the creatives behind it, decisions were made that supported Cadbury’s commitment to the idea that the most powerful words would come when people had the chance to tell their own story.

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