The Drum Awards Festival - Official Deadline

-d -h -min -sec

Brand Strategy Cadbury VCCP

Glass and a half of tears: VCCP’s rules for those Cadbury ads that hit you in the feels


By Chris Birch and Jonny Parker, Executive creative directors

January 5, 2024 | 7 min read

Chris Birch and Jonny Parker’s Cadbury ads always touch the heart. In such a jaded world, they explain why these earnest efforts work.


It’s a funny thing when asked about the Cadbury campaign we’ve worked on for the last six years. We’ve heard the same thing several times from people who say: “I hate ads like this, but not these.”

Like David Wrigglesworth of Grey, who said (and this is an actual quote): “I don’t really love the wannabe, earnest advertising - it makes me feel a bit sick. But I love these.”

Even one of the esteemed editors of this publication, when asking us to write this piece, said: “I’m a cynical fucker, but this campaign gets me. How?” [Editor’s note: it’s true].

So here we are trying to answer that for him and for the countless others who hate ads that are like this, but not these ones, obviously.

It’s probably because we don’t like ads like these either...

We’re often accused of bringing the room down with our cynical tilts. Michael Lee – chief strategy officer of VCCP - introduced us at the global agency meeting as the only people more cynical than him. (He only pretends, though; he’s actually lovely).

But on Cadbury, that cynicism might be the secret chocolaty sauce.

We were briefed on ‘generosity’ for a global chocolate brand six years ago. Our first thought was: “Bollocks. It’s chocolate, not”.

But once our creative mards had settled, we actually looked at Cadbury’s Quaker history and realized what a truly generous brand this was.

Then we were in trouble ‘cos we knew we needed to do one of those campaigns – a warm, lovely, emotional thing.

So we needed rules. And alarms. And watertight arguments. And ferocity in defending those rules. To protect ourselves from making the type of work we hate.

Suggested newsletters for you

Daily Briefing


Catch up on the most important stories of the day, curated by our editorial team.

Ads of the Week


See the best ads of the last week - all in one place.

The Drum Insider

Once a month

Learn how to pitch to our editors and get published on The Drum.

Rules like:

Could this be true? They need to be truthful. No handy contrivances.

  • Must include grit. As Mr Planchon (who made the first two brand films) said, “...there is no light without darkness.” Thanks, Frederic; the clients now challenge us with exactly those words.

  • No music. If the story needs music, it’s not a good enough story. The best pub tales don’t have Einaudi tinkling the ivories behind the teller. (Maybe sometimes in Mayfair.)

  • Stripped bare. No gloss. Don’t tart up the newsagents. Don’t fix its broken shelf. Take Mum’s makeup off. That’s what the real world looks like.

  • Another rule, do people feel ANYTHING when we share the work with them? ANYTHING? To be fair, this can be tricky because we’re all feeling less and less right now, right? Turning into robots. Just us? Cool.

We could go on about the rules. We do to the creative department working on Cadbury briefs. There are many.

But there’s also really only one: No bollocks.

And it’s not just the flagship films we’re talking about here.

It’s everything on Cadbury. The radio, the promotions, the activations.

They all have to pass through the ‘bollocksy filter’.

They’re all full of heart and warmth, but schmaltz is banned. Zero piano soundtrack. Which is hard.

What’s quite funny is seeing the young bright bushy account people start on the account and two years later seeing their remarkable development into some of the most furrowed brow cynical fuckers you’ve ever met.

But it’s fun. And it’s all in service of ‘finding the soul of the brand’ (the words of another ad magazine, not ours, that phrase wouldn’t pass the bollocks filter).

It seems to be working. And not just here in the UK, but globally too.

We love the work; they’re selling loads of chocolate, and it’s a great success.

But we’ll level with you; it’s exhausting because it’s felt like a tightrope for six years.

If, at any point, someone on the team successfully lobbies for a plinky-plonky soundtrack, we’re screwed.

And we’d just be making those ads we really hate.

So, hooray for cynicism. What a hero.

Read more about the pair’s ads here.

Brand Strategy Cadbury VCCP

More from Brand Strategy

View all


Industry insights

View all
Add your own content +