One of my favourite advertising stories is the story of Cadbury’s Chocolate Flake. It’s a great example of commitment and how to create something from nothing. It explains how to generously build a new industry category through creativity and innovative thinking.
The initial product idea, for the chocolate bar, was stumbled upon when a line worker noticed that machine over-runs made folds of chocolate and these folds had a very soft and flakey texture. Interested in this, Cadbury immediately sent the product out for market testing and research and instantly received terrible feedback. People complained the chocolate was too soft and it literally fell apart when you opened the wrapper.
Faced with this feedback, the obvious action would have been to scrap the product or radically change it so that it did not crumble and flake. The market research said people did not like this, the customer is always right, right!? However, Cadbury thought about it and realized the reaction was based on a belief that a good chocolate bar does not crumble and flake. What if!? they altered this belief and presented these attributes, perceived as negative, as actually highly appealing and desirable and in doing so transform them into positive attributes that you would actually want. Could they alter and mould this belief into something new?
Audacious? Absolutely. Anyone with experience working in the advertising business knows how dangerous it can be to communicate in opposition to beliefs, when they are strongly held. Cadbury knew they would have to take a calculated gamble on the premise that actually it was not a strongly held belief but a belief that could be moulded into a different form, much like their chocolate. People believed that chocolate bars should be firm and self contained. Would they be willing to expand this to include new exceptions? Cadbury decided to take a leap of faith.
The Cadbury ‘Flake’ was launched 90 years ago. It was promoted as the ‘crumbliest, flakiest milk chocolate in the world’. They actually used the exact attributes, which were those perceived as negative, in the initial research, to promote the product! They promoted this message heavily and consistently and did not back down for a second. They made a commitment to alter a consumer belief about an entire industry. In doing so they were opening the door, not only for future Cadbury product innovations, but for all of their competitors in their industry. In effect they were generously creating a new product category, out of nothing, out of something that was stumbled upon in their factory.
For this reason, for me, it takes on a new level of meaning. It goes beyond just being an audacious and creative solution to a problem. It becomes something that is deeply inspired and a game changer. Hindsight always provides certainty in spades, someone could argue now that it was inevitable that this would happen. For me, I know that someone at Cadbury must have had to fight through all the negative feedback and say: “We can make this work. We can make something out of nothing, we can create something new, we can do this.” These are such special moments when you witness them first hand and even more meaningful when you are helping them happen, when you are a part of a solution that is a game changer.
Cadbury could have scraped the idea, they could have even fired the person who came up with it, if they had listened but not heard the initial market research feedback. Instead they announced the Cadbury Flake as “the crumbliest, flakiest milk chocolate in the world.” History was made with an amazing & inspiring use of creative thinking and advertising.