Business Irish

Friday 22 September 2017

Cadbury boss hoping €15m ad campaign will go down a treat

Ambitious 'Spots v Stripes' to tie in with Olympic Games

Peter Flanagan

Peter Flanagan

THE LAST year has been a tumultuous one for many businesses, and for Cadbury it has been no exception.

Last September, the US giant Kraft offered £10.2bn (€12.3bn) for the company. That offer was initially rejected by the Cadbury board but it signalled the start of a process that concluded in last January when Kraft eventually paid £11.5bn for the business.

But the takeover quickly became a public relations disaster for the American company, especially in the UK. In March Kraft was forced to apologise to MPs after being accused of "fighting dirty" to get Cadbury and in May the Takeover Panel censured Kraft for closing a major plant after initially promising there would be no factory closures. That censure resulted in the investment banker who advised Kraft, Peter Kiernan, withdrawing his candidacy for the Takeover Panel's top job.

It was into this world that Brian O'Sullivan stepped when he took over as managing director of Cadbury Ireland last February. A Cork native, O'Sullivan has gone from being sales director when he joined the group 10 years ago to presiding over Cadbury's 1,200 employees in Dublin and Kerry.

It's a critical time for Cadbury Ireland, especially after well documented staff cuts over the last number of years and, unsurprisingly, it is the first thing that O'Sullivan wants to clear up. Namely, that this is a time for investment in Cadbury Ireland, not retraction.

"We've a big investment programme in Dublin and that has been rubber-stamped since the takeover. There'll be a €20m investment there over the next few months and a brand new plant for making Dairy Milk chocolate. We've put in €120m in investment there in the last three years.

"You have to look at what Kraft got when they bought Cadbury Ireland. It has a huge manufacturing heritage in Coolock, Dublin and Rathmore, Co Kerry. The Dairy Milk brand is also much more popular per capita here than anywhere else."

Fortunately, the problems that Kraft encountered when they took over Cadbury UK do not appear to have come up over here. For example, an exodus of senior executives from the British organisation has not been replicated in Ireland, according to the Irish MD.

"No, not at all. Whenever a company is taken over like we have been, it's inevitable that there will be some change, but there are huge opportunities for anyone who is willing to make the sacrifices or move around the world with Kraft."

Acclaimed

Despite what O'Sullivan might say, it is clear that Kraft have had to go some way to rebuild the Cadbury brand, in the UK and Ireland. To that end, Cadbury have launched a new advertising campaign titled 'Spots v Stripes'. The idea behind the campaign is to get the country out playing games by essentially splitting the country into spots and stripes. Events will be organised around the country to complement the advertising campaign while a TV advertising campaign is being run by the same team that created the acclaimed 'Gorilla' and 'Eyebrows' ads.

The campaign has been launched this month to tie in with Cadbury's role as an official sponsor of the 2012 London Olympics. In Ireland alone, the campaign is expected to cost in the region of €15m.

That €15m investment means that in the words of Mr O'Sullivan, Spots v Stripes is "the only game in town" for Cadbury over the next two years. Unquestionably, the campaign represents a risk for the company. So where did Spots v Stripes come from?

"We're the official treat provider to London 2012 and to Team Ireland. As part of that we look at ideas for advertising that fit around that. Cadbury looked at it and saw that the Olympics are all about playing games. The Olympics' message has always been 'it's not the winning that counts but the taking part', and that's what Spots v Stripes is all about. "A key difference between this campaign and others is that the focus here is not necessarily about exercise and everything that goes with that, it's about getting everyone playing and having fun. Ideas for playing games will be available online.

"There'll be events around the country to create awareness and get it into people's minds while there is stuff going on across colleges and the like and to show how much fun games are.

"We hope that the idea of Spots v Stripes will continue up to 2012 and beyond the Olympics. In the end, you'll know if the campaign has been successful if you see people out around the country playing different games."

The campaign is undoubtedly an ambitious one, but O'Sullivan is confident that it will succeed.

"It's certainly by far the most ambitious thing we've ever done and trying to keep something going for two years has not but done that often in the past, but we've taken it to our customers at an early stage and we're working together to try to make the finished article work. We're very happy so far."

The advertising campaign combined with the completion of the Kraft takeover would be a big undertaking for someone in the top job for a long time, never mind only five months, but O'Sullivan seems to thrive on the pressure.

"Taking on this position right now is a fantastic opportunity. Having said that, it comes with great responsibility, especially at such a time of change in the company. People have asked me if I would prefer to have got this promotion when the business was moving along nicely and there wasn't much happening but I say to them that that the chance to lead the company through a transition of this magnitude is a once in a lifetime opportunity.

"We have an ambition to get the best out of both companies in Ireland and UK and to add to the combined brands. The leadership team across the UK and Ireland is fantastic and it means you have the support within the team to do this job. Cadbury Ireland is a very special company but so is Kraft Ireland, so to have any role in bringing the two companies together is huge for me," he said.

It's obvious that Mr O'Sullivan is under no illusion about the size of the task he's facing as he leads the integration but he appears to have taken to it with the enthusiasm one would expect of someone still relatively new in the top job. In truth, it is probably a "wait and see" time for Cadbury as its integration into the Kraft family takes place. O'Sullivan, however, is not going to leave anything behind as he works to get the business into shape.

"We have to bring two companies together and create a better business on the other side. We have to make it a successful company and grow it into the future -- that's my goal."

Irish Independent

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