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Close-Up: The Advocates - Banging an upbeat tune in a downbeat industry

In the third of Campaign's series The Advocates, championing clients who continue to spend in the recession, Cadbury's Phil Rumbol reveals how a drumming primate has boosted his confidence in marketing and advertising.

Phil Rumbol has instinctively bought good advertising through his career, and when the drumming gorilla was first let out of his cage, he needed no convincing Cadbury was on to a winner for its underperforming Dairy Milk brand. He just couldn't fathom why he thought so.

At the time, the soon-to-be hugely popular primate had yet to assume tangible form. In fact, he was still a figment in the mind of Juan Cabral (the creative and director on the ad) when the Argentine read the script to the Cadbury UK marketing chief. Maybe it was the creative's fervour or the fact that Phil Collins' Something In The Air was blasting from the sound system, but Rumbol was sold.

"We thought the idea was amazing - we just didn't know why it was amazing. But we could understand the idea and it seemed so apposite," he says.

Refreshing the brand

Cadbury's Dairy Milk was an important brand for the company but also a stagnating one. Publicis had been working on the brief for several months but, with little sign of the agency cracking it, Rumbol decided to brief Fallon in parallel and gave it a week in which to come up with an answer.

But if "gorilla" was conceived in haste, it has proved to have true staying power, setting down Cadbury's marker in the "glass and a half" series of commercials, of which "eyebrows" is the latest manifestation.

It's interesting to note, however, that mentions of "trucks", the actual follow-up to "gorilla", are conspicuous by their absence because the ad has pretty much been sidelined by Cadbury as a blip in the campaign.

However, the most important point for Rumbol is that Dairy Milk sales are at their highest for some time, having delivered an 8 per cent growth last year.

The reason "gorilla" was apposite was because it fitted perfectly with the Cadbury strategy of delivering a big feel-good factor. "The last thing people want at this time is to be watching something austere on TV," Rumbol says. The company has neatly sidestepped the obesity issue and the credit crunch by presenting its brands as affordable treats and making them synonymous with entertainment.

"When I arrived at Cadbury three years ago, I had a sense that the brand was about fun and enjoyment but could see that wasn't reflected in the advertising," Rumbol says.

"I saw that as an opportunity. Chocolate should make you feel good. We felt that with the 90-second 'gorilla' spot, we were actually 'being' that thought, rather than just 'saying' it. What this campaign has done is not only rekindle the affection older people had for the brand, but also forge a relationship with a younger generation."

Increased spend

The company spends about £30 million every year on above- and below-the-line activities, as well as sponsorship. It has increased its marketing investment steadily over the past three years and Rumbol expects that spending in 2009 will exceed last year's.

"We're investing behind more brands at present than at any time in the past two years," he says. Even an old Maynard's wine gums campaign has been dusted off in an attempt to boost sales across the board. "If you can do things like that, you can invest in some of your more strategic initiatives," he adds.

The extra investment is partly because of the new possibilities opening up online and the growing influence of social media. The emergence of "gorilla" as a YouTube phenomenon (11.4 million hits to date) has alerted Rumbol and his team to always look beyond "paid-for" advertising. "Not only is it free exposure, but people are coming to the brand of their own accord," he explains.

Last month, Cadbury supported its Trident chewing-gum brand with a stunt at London's Piccadilly Circus, where 100 girls danced to Beyonce's Single Ladies to promote tickets for the singer's gig at the O2. The online spot attracted 454,000 visits in just three days.

The Return of Wispa

Nothing, though, surpasses what happened with Wispa, the chocolate bar Cadbury relaunched last year after a Facebook group calling for its revival grew to 250,000 people. With fans invited to become involved in a blockbuster Christmas ad, £20 million worth of Wispas were sold in 16 weeks for an investment of little more than £1 million. "We just allowed ourselves to be dictated to by what was happening," Rumbol explains.

Such strategies grow out of a company where corporate confidence in advertising and marketing is high, according to Rumbol. It has to be because confectionery is what he calls a "repertoire" market where a plethora of brands vie for consumers' attention and retaining customer loyalty is a perpetual challenge.

Nevertheless, hand-in-hand with expanding budget goes the need to marshal it carefully. Procurement specialists play an important part in this, Rumbol says, but they don't run the show. "It's like buying a car," he contends. "You know the make and specification you want. You just want to be sure you're getting the best price. But somebody has to make the final call - and that person is me."

He's also adamant that agencies should be properly incentivised. "I'm a great believer in performance-related pay. If we do well, then so should our agencies."

As for media agencies claiming to offer more strategic and creative solutions, Rumbol insists that he wants to see them doing what they've always done best. Last year he moved the Cadbury media account from Starcom to PHD. "We were looking for great ideas and it's clear that in the past three or four years, media has become more about buying effectively."

It's all about PHD's know-how being used to deploy Saatchi & Saatchi's or Fallon's creative ideas to their maximum effect, he argues. Sure, he adds, there are good TV deals to be had at the moment. "But it's no longer about how many times you tell people, it's about how well you engage them."

THE RUMBOL LOWDOWN

Refreshing Heineken

To say Sir Frank Lowe wasn't best pleased with Phil Rumbol for dropping Heineken's iconic "refreshes the parts other beers cannot reach" slogan is putting it mildly. "He asked what the hell we thought we were doing," Rumbol, then the Anheuser-Busch InBev marketing chief, remembers. But, he insists, there were sound reasons for switching to "how refreshing, how Heineken" despite incurring the wrath of the man who championed the original line.

From Dime Bar to the 'gorilla'

Throughout his marketing career, Rumbol hasn't been afraid of making tough calls and overseeing the development of memorable advertising, well before the debut of Cadbury's drumming gorilla.

From the Harry Enfield Dime Bar campaign while he was at RHM Foods to the spoof perfume commercials for Boddingtons (not to mention the multi award-winning "ice-skating priests" for Stella Artois), Rumbol has an enviable track record.

Starting out

All the more so given that Rumbol, a maths graduate from Brunel University, stumbled into marketing almost by accident. "I began working in a finance department but decided it wasn't for me," he recalls. "But it put me in touch with some marketing people who'd come in to learn about spreadsheets. I went to what is now Sara Lee to get some work experience in marketing and loved it."

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