Darrell Lea parodies Cadbury’s ‘Gorilla’ – Is it effective?

Phil Toppi
By Phil Toppi | 11 September 2020
Phil Toppi

Phil Toppi is founder and managing director at Cubery.

After being sold to private equity in 2018, Darrell Lea made headlines in 2019 with a remake of Yellow Pages’ iconic ‘Not Happy Jan’ advert. However, a cease and desist issued by Yellow Pages’ parent company, Sensis, meant the ad remained on-air only temporarily.

Not to be dissuaded, Darrell Lea made a triumphant return last week with a parody of one of the most famous ads ever made – Cadbury’s ‘Gorilla’. The ad caused a furore within the marketing community – some thought ‘100% Palm Oil Free’ was clever, others crass.

But if we remove ourselves from the marketing bubble for a moment, have regular Aussies even seen the original Cadbury ‘Gorilla’ ad? And if so, do they realise ‘100% Palm Oil Free’ is a parody? Do they care?

Or if we take a different perspective, has Darrell Lea been too clever for its own good? While many high fives would’ve been had around the (virtual) boardroom table when the plan was hatched, is the end product actually effective?

To get a definitive answer to all these questions, we put the ad to Australian chocolate consumers.

Does the ad grab people’s attention and engage them in an emotional way?
As Cadbury proved back in 2007, pairing an iconic soundtrack with an anthropomorphic primate is a recipe for success. The build-up to a 500-pound gorilla ferociously smashing the drums as Phil Collins’ ‘In the Air Tonight’ reaches its spine-tingling crescendo, is pure magic.

While perhaps not matching the same emotional climax, George Michael’s ‘Freedom!’ had viewers tapping their feet and nodding their heads. The odd pairing of an orangutan playing the drums amused viewers, creating a fun and playful atmosphere.

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Will the parody be linked to Darrell Lea or, ironically, will Cadbury – the category leader and brand they’re playing off – benefit most?
Despite bookending the ad with references to Darrell Lea, over two-thirds of viewers didn’t pick up on a single distinctive branding property which clued them into the brand.

While the tribute to ‘Gorilla’ could’ve hinted at the category, less than one-in-ten viewers made the connection. Of those who did, every one of them considered Darrell Lea’s version to be largely derivative and unoriginal – reinforcing how difficult it is to get this strategy right.

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Is reimagining ‘Gorilla’ an effective way for Darrell Lea to get its message across?
Darrell Lea went to great lengths to convey the message that it doesn’t use palm oil in its chocolate and that it cares about the environment. However, many people failed to recognise:

  1. It was an orangutan,
  2. Orangutans have been displaced by palm oil plantations, and;
  3. The orangutan drumming was celebrating its habitat being preserved.

At a more fundamental level, many people weren’t even aware of the significance of palm oil.

For the broader strategy to work the ad relied on people connecting even more dots together. Specifically, people had to have:

  1. Previously seen ‘Gorilla’,
  2. Recognised that the ad was a parody, and;
  3. Associated Cadbury with using palm oil.

Unsurprisingly, this group consisted of precisely zero people – meaning viewers didn’t perceive the ad as taking a dig at Cadbury’s use of palm oil, nor signal that Darrell Lea is a modern and progressive company. Instead, lots of people were just left confused.

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Does the ad work?
The issue with ‘100% Palm Oil Free’ is that it’s trying to be too clever. Right down to minute details like framing the story as ‘A Palm Oil Free Production’ (rather than ‘A Glass and a Half Full Production’), Darrell Lea banked on enough Australians being familiar with both Cadbury’s ‘Gorilla’ and the significance of palm oil to orangutans, in order for the idea to work.

While Darrell Lea’s commitment to not using palm oil may offer the brand a meaningful point of difference versus much bigger (and *potentially* less environmentally friendly) competitors, parodying ‘Gorilla’ isn’t an effective platform for doing this.

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