Ogilvy’s Bhakti Malik writes about the agency’s WARC Awards for Asian Strategy Grand Prix-winning work for Cadbury Celebrations, and how it achieved growth during an unprecedented Diwali season by reigniting the brand’s purpose.

By the end of August 2020, people all over the world were already done with the year. And by 31st December, they were celebrating the end of dark times with the hope that a change of date would change the gloomy vibe. For all of us, the pandemic has been both a crucible and a teacher. Strangely, it clarified what really mattered in life. 

Suddenly, we needed to be conscious of everything: we couldn’t leave our homes, celebrate, or sit by the bedside of the sick. At the same time, we saw the formation of new social behaviour across communities: checking in on elderly people and the vulnerable, volunteering, working from home, taking care of the needy – such acts took precedence as the world became more ‘We’ than ‘I’.

And amidst this dichotomy was Cadbury looking to revive its chocolate business during India’s largest and widely celebrated festival – Diwali. This was its last chance to create any sort of momentum for the chocolate category in 2020 (down by 60% in Q2) and regain lost household penetration by jump-starting its gifting business with Cadbury Celebrations (expecting at a 30% year-on-year decline). It wasn’t too sure this would happen, given that many people were conflicted on whether to celebrate or not. After all, would it even be appropriate to do so? 

Reigniting the spirit of generosity

Culture immersions and consumer deep dives showed us new emerging phenomena and made us reflect deeply. 

  • People had turned their attention away from brands and influencers promoting consumption towards those practising socially responsible behaviour, responsibility, and compassion. 
  • People were caring for people. There had been numerous incidents of one person’s initiative snowballing into community movements to help the needy. 

These stories of unconditional generosity made us look within. We could see Cadbury’s core value of inspiring generosity all around us – we just weren’t participating in it as much as we should have been. 

We were busy looking for ‘customers’ and their gifting motivations, which was stopping us from seeing them as ‘people’. We were blinded by a strange customer obsession that was making us worry about our sales only, looking over the fact that we are dealing with people who are stressed. They were struggling to make a living, to keep their children in school, to manage their monthly budgets. 

Upon zooming out further, we saw the vulnerable sole traders – on whom we depended for business. They are our first customers as they stock our products. The pandemic had hit their businesses hard. Online retail was booming and many of these small retailers were struggling to keep their shutters up. Starved for operating cash, they were re-prioritising stocking to essentials given that chocolates and gifting were not even on people’s minds.

Redefining gifting

We realised that, instead of asking people to buy presents for others, it would have been much more powerful to ask them to help small retailers by buying from them. This way, even those who were not looking to celebrate would do it to help a small business.

It felt like the right thing to do given the situation and our core purpose of inspiring generosity. What good is a purpose if it can’t improve the lives of the people it touches, especially in hard times?

We redefined the joy of gifting by reimagining the gift, turning our marketing into an act of generosity that promoted local businesses as well as our own.

Bringing our idea to life in the form of a traditional ad would certainly evoke sympathy, but would it be enough? We surely didn’t want to get lost in the clutter of the season. 

Upon deeper thinking, we discovered that people are more likely to move if we nudge their attention towards a local shop they already have a connection with.

This compelling insight further convinced us about our thought process and got the team to explore geolocation-based possibilities with various platform partners. 

Using tech to create empathy at scale

Joining the dots from concept to execution was truly a crash course in collaboration for everyone involved. 

First, we developed a simple video showing a family exchanging gifts during Diwali (this was limited to immediate family only owing to COVID-19 implications). We displayed a variety of gifts being exchanged, not just Cadbury Celebrations, with the aim to then tag the local shops selling them. 

Then, we put together an unlikely combination of writers, system thinkers, platform partners, and data miners. While the core team designed and tested the prototype on YouTube and Facebook for geo-location-based dynamic optimisation, Cadbury’s sales force was on-ground collating retailer data at postcode level. 

Finally, we tested our produced ad edit with several hundred combinations of retailer data by fusing it with AI. To our hope, the tests worked successfully across major reach platforms.

We went live in phases. The first was an experiment to monitor initial reactions. All this time, on-ground teams were collating more retailer data across postcodes. We also produced an explainer demo video that showed the idea and the use of tech in shaping it. The need of the hour was to put the idea out there for people to own and share within their WhatsApp groups and communities as the breaking news of the season. 

A microsite for sceptics and believers

As the ads gained traction, we also created a microsite where anyone could create a local version of the ad based on their location (integrated with retailers already listed on google at the backend). This was a ready-to-share demo that clarified the idea to the sceptics while nudging the believers to promote the local shops around them. 

Measuring the viral empathy 

Within 48 hours of launch, the campaign gained enormous traction. It was one of the most forwarded Diwali greetings on WhatsApp. What started as a campaign with the intention of top-line growth went beyond that and became a benchmark for purposeful and effective modern marketing. 

The AI-powered video set new viewership benchmarks across platforms and generated a PR buzz worth $1.5m in the most advertising-cluttered time of the year. 

Cadbury Celebrations increased its average stock per store by 26%, moved consideration for gifting by 6% and recorded a 32% jump in sales when it was anticipating a decline. 

However, the best thing for the team was the satisfaction of creating a meaningful difference at a time when it mattered the most, all the while staying true to the brand’s root purpose.

This activity and the results it achieved taught us many lessons: 

  • Profit orientation can blinker marketers, making them think that consumers would behave as they want them to, forgetting that it doesn’t work that way. 
  • Pre-pandemic consumer-centric strategies evolved and became social-centric strategies.
  • Caring for customers is important, but caring for people who care for customers is just as important. 
  • There is more to technology than just performance. If used well, it can create empathy, connection, and trust at scale. 
  • The only way brands can realise their purpose is by sticking to it in tough times.
  • People judge brands by their actions, not their words.

An abridged version of this article appears in WARC's 2021 Asian Strategy Report.