LONDON: Maltesers, the Mars-owned confectionery brand, reversed declining brand metrics and sales with a humorous take on disability that proved to be one of its most successful campaigns ever.

In the current issue of Market Leader, the creators of the campaign explain how, having being pushed to produce more unusual work, "we accidentally lost connection to our everyday sense of humour, creating work that wasn't relevant or funny to the people who loved us".

A return to humour with the 'Look on the light side' platform co-incided with a Channel 4 competition encouraging brands to better represent disability in their advertising and which offered the winner £1m of free airtime during the Rio Paralympics.

"It was a great business opportunity but, more than this, we saw how its sentiment chimed with our brand ambitions, and the potential of such an activation to truly create some change and improve the representation of consumers in advertising," the authors note.

Brand ambitions included 10% uplifts in metrics such as brand relevance and brand affinity, as well as reaching the entire nation and growing sales three times faster than the category.

"By recognising that disabled people want to be accepted, not exceptionalised, we found a unique creative angle with which to approach our communications," the authors say: showing disabled people laughing about their own mishaps.

The first script 'New Boyfriend', which shows a girl using Maltesers as a prop to tell close friends about an awkward situation in her love life that's related to her disability, won the Channel 4 competition and paved the way for a series of ads reflecting a range of disabilities, including Britain's first-ever fully signed TV ad, initially aired without any subtitles.

Brand tracking showed that people who had seen the campaign were 20% more likely to say that they liked Maltesers as a brand, and 22% more likely to say that they thought Maltesers was a brand for 'someone like me'.

TV ensured that 85% of the UK's adults were reached, "but the real power of the idea came through in earned media", as people took to social to discuss the ads and the press picked up on them.

Most importantly for the brand, value sales for the campaign period increased 8.1% against a year earlier – more than four times that of the segment. Volume sales grew 19.4% – again outgrowing segment growth more than four times.

Data sourced from Market Leader; additional content by WARC staff