Why Cadbury’s choc tactics make me gag | David Mitchell | Opinion

We must remember that it’s not Dairy Milk’s fault. Dairy Milk is the music, not the Wagner or Michael Jackson, in all this. You can’t blame the thing for its creator. It may put you off the thing – you may find it disconcerting to hear Jackson sing “I’m bad” over and over again, now that you know he was – but it’s not the fault of the words “I’m bad”, or the tune they’re sung to. They’re not themselves bad (or good, except in the subjective sense of their being part of a song lots of people liked). So does that mean the words are lying? If so, that’s bad. So they are bad! So they’re not lying! So they’re not… Damn it!

Unlike music, when it comes to the recipes of popular snacks, the authorship is often unknown. Perhaps that’s for the best. If something grisly came out about whoever first thought of putting cheese on toast, that would be a blow to us all. It was invented a long time ago, so they’re pretty much bound to be racist for a start. But it could be much worse than that – so it’s better not to know. People who want to spoil cheese on toast for themselves can always use Marmite.

Authorship may be forgotten, but intellectual property seldom is. Not many popular snacks are as legally unencumbered as cheese on toast – and I bet some corporation or other has had a go at enclosing that little tract of common land. I reckon a brand like Cathedral City will have had a meeting about it. Did you notice Gordon’s Gin have a pop at changing what the G in G&T stood for? Back off, guys! And careful what you wish for: Hoovers may be everywhere, but most of them are Dysons. So I actually prefer Bombay Sapphire in my Gordon’s and Tonic. Take that, Diageo plc – I’m with Bacardi Limited!

I don’t know who invented the recipe for Dairy Milk, but I certainly know who owns it. It’s Cadbury, formerly Cadbury Schweppes, formerly Cadbury’s, which is in turn owned by Mondelēz International, formed in 2012 from the demerger of Kraft Foods Inc into itself and Kraft Foods Group Inc. So it’s all on a lovely local scale.

The reason I’m contemplating the ethical position of recipe owners is that last week Cadbury did a bad thing. Now you’re going to think it’s worse than it is. It’s not too bad. But it is bad. And odd. I’ll just say what it is.

They published some webpages, under the heading “Cadbury Treasure Hunt”, encouraging families to visit Britain and Ireland’s historic sites and dig for treasure. Unfortunately, as Dr Aisling Tierney, an archaeologist at Bristol University, pointed out: “Any digging within a set distance of an archaeological monument is a criminal offence.” Her profession was up in arms at Cadbury suddenly inciting people to “get their hands dirty” or have “a quick check” for gold and jewels at historically significant protected locations, with offence caused by both the potential illegality and the implication that all archaeologists do is hunt for treasure.

Cadbury has apologised and taken those webpages down, which is quite right, but what was happening in the first place? Why was Cadbury banging on about visiting historical sites? And how did it come to do so in such a thoughtless way as to accidentally encourage criminality? Why aren’t they just saying: “You may enjoy some of our range of chocolate products”?

Well, apparently Cadbury sells something called Cadbury Dairy Milk Freddo Treasures, which is basically moulded Dairy Milk, but there are QR codes on it – you know, those little blotchy squares, like Rorschach tests for robots – which, if scanned, open the aforementioned online looting manual. So it’s a sort of prize, but the prize is something historical to read. A hugely disappointing prize, then. I imagine the stuff about digging up treasure was shoved in to marginally allay that disappointment, while still making parents feel that it’s all very educational and outdoorsy, and so perhaps they needn’t worry so much about childhood obesity.

I’m glad it backfired, because I really hate this kind of disingenuous corporate virtue-signalling. It’s like when retailers encourage you to collect tokens in exchange for which they’ll give money to charity or books to schools. It’s such a depressing index of public credulity. Campaigns like that obviously succeed in increasing sales or the companies’ boards of directors wouldn’t be able to justify them to shareholders. They wouldn’t do it if people didn’t fall for it.

I’m particularly unsettled by this one because I love Dairy Milk. To me, it is the most delicious chocolate in the world. It was also the first chocolate I ever tasted, so my preference may have more to do with the early impression it made on my palate than any objective chocolate-making excellence. But, whatever the reason, I love it – I love the taste and, emotionally, I love the product’s existence. I feel proprietorial about it.

But it’s not mine or yours, or John Cadbury’s or Willy Wonka’s. It belongs to a multibillionaire six-year-old called Mondelēz – a bloated kid, like many of its customers. And I realise that, fundamentally, I find that ownership offensive. It feels like the people at Mondelēz have actually done what they mistakenly incited last week. They’ve purloined something, a shared and much-loved cultural artefact; they’ve looted our collective childhoods in order to enrich themselves. That’s the way of the world but, like any big winner in an unfair game, they should get it quietly.

Yet they don’t. They flaunt it. They put bits of Oreo in it, which is like the Wizard of Oz turning up in The Wind in the Willows. They try to register a trademark for that Cadbury shade of purple and are only defeated because of objections from Nestlé. But Mondelēz gets its own back when, following intense lobbying, Nestlé’s attempt to trademark the shape of a KitKat is rejected.

These corporate giants’ assertion and exploitation of their ownership of these beloved British treats is savage. I have to keep reminding myself it’s not Dairy Milk’s fault, because its owners are doing everything they can, short of changing the recipe, to make it taste wrong.

Source link