The people from Mondelez and VCCP behind Dairy Milk’s stereotype-smashing campaign tell LBB’s Alex Reeves why listening to stories is the key to reframing views on age
Older people are sick of your small talk. If you’d lived through generations of history, seen cultural epochs come and go and racked up a formidable repertoire of funny, shocking and emotional stories, why would you be interested in talking about the drizzle outside?
That’s the truth at the heart of ‘The Originals’, the latest ad campaign for British chocolate brand Cadbury Dairy Milk. Following the exceptionally moving ‘This Doesn’t Need to End’, which was about as on-the-money as any piece of early-Covid-era responsive marketing, ‘The Originals’ demonstrates the power of listening to transform someone’s life.
As part of the chocolate brand’s collaboration with Age UK to tackle loneliness, the film showcases a group of older people who are given the chance to tell their amazing real life stories. 80 seconds is more than enough to remind you of just how cool older people are, but we defy you to finish the video not wanting to hear more from these fascinating characters - or indeed the older people in your own life.
LBB’s Alex Reeves spoke to VCCP creative directors Chris Birch and Jonny Parker and Colin O’Toole, associate director of marketing at Mondelez.
LBB> The last big campaign 'This Doesn't Need to End' was very much a Covid lockdown story, but this feels much more universal and timeless. Did this idea start before the pandemic and how did it evolve?
Jonny> It sure did. Our Donate Your Words campaign has been around for nearly a year now. It started with the ‘Wordless Bar’, a Dairy Milk pack redesigned with all the words taken off it to raise awareness of the desperately lonely older people that go days and weeks without talking to anyone. The campaign was built through social to persuade us all to donate just a few words to those that often have none. Be it your nan, your neighbour, the old man you sometimes see at the bus stop.
But then the world changed. So for the latest burst we shifted tack. This Covid rubbish has created enough doom and gloom. We wanted to be more positive. We wanted the country to feel less duty bound and more inspired to donate their words. Because older people are ace. They’re just like us right? They’re into the same things. The difference is their generation has been doing it all for much much longer. They invented the stuff we’re into. They’re achingly cool. They were dancing naked in fields long before we’d been to the sanitised festivals we go to these days. They marched for a better world for us before we were even born. They’ve travelled the world, run start-ups, written books. Rock and roll. They invented it. And punk.
Colin> It did. ‘Donate Your Words’ first launched last September and this was all about drawing attention to the issue of loneliness amongst older people. We asked everyone to go out and ‘Donate Your Words,’ and by this we mean, have a chat with an older person. The impact of all of these individual actions would be more wonderful connections across the country and less older people struggling with loneliness.
‘The Originals’ is part of that wider campaign. When the pandemic hit, we quickly realised that older people’s lives would be greatly impacted. So we wanted to continue to help them at this critical time, but for us it was important to do this in a different way.
Older people have been referred to as helpless victims throughout Covid making all the stereotypes around old age even worse. With ‘The Originals’ we wanted to help older people in a way that also empowered them.
LBB> Why was this strategically right for Cadbury right now?
Chris> Covid has been a challenge to many of us, but in particular the old and vulnerable have suffered exponentially. They’ve had a double whammy. Because they’re most at risk it’s led to even more sorrow and isolation. We already had the platform and relationship with Age UK. It wasn’t really a strategic decision, it was an obligation to continue.
Colin> We have the belief that everyone has goodness and generosity within them which is why we say “there’s a glass and a half in everyone.” The campaigns we do for Cadbury Dairy Milk are really about bringing that belief to life. Proving it.
Cadbury as a brand was born generous so it’s key that we act that way - and with this campaign one way we’re doing that by supporting our charity partner Age UK. But we also want to inspire everyone to do something generous and to inspire connections. ‘The Originals’ does just that - it makes you think about an older person in your life and a story they’ve told you and it inspires you to connect again with the older people in your life to find out even more incredible things.
LBB> What insights was it built on? It's clearly a reaction to certain stereotypes of older people that ring true. What sort of research fed that?
Jonny> We‘re all guilty of talking small to the elderly in our lives. ‘Are you warm enough?’ ‘What did you watch on the telly last night?’ ‘What did you have for dinner?’ We do it all the time. But we know deep down that there’s way more to the older generation. We just forget from time to time. When we were filming the first episode of this campaign we got talking to one of our cast, Theresa. Turns out she used to be Elizabeth Taylor’s seamstress. You’d never imagine it to look at her. It gets you thinking about all the experiences she’d probably had. We wanted to know more. All it took was a few minutes of our time for her to open up and share these brilliant tales. And yet she’d been living in total isolation. I’d say in many ways Theresa was our inspiration.
Colin> We did research for the first burst of ‘Donate Your Words’ in 2019 with Age UK which proved loneliness was a real problem for older people. With ‘The Originals’ though it was more a reaction to the news of Covid and the way older people were referred to in the media.
Older people face a stigma in our society and Covid has definitely made that worse. We found an interesting comment from the secretary general of the UN which spoke of older people being “highly visible in the Covid-19 outbreak but their voices have not been heard” and urged us to not treat older people as “invisible or powerless”. That really struck a chord with us and helped to inspire our campaign.
LBB> Are the people and their stories real?
Chris> Hell yes. It was really important that our cast were real people with real stories. We’d be cheating if it wasn’t. I think it’s part of the reason the film feels so powerful because the lines aren’t scripted, the characters aren’t actors. The stories are theirs. It’s all genuine stuff and the human brain knows it. You can see them explode into life when they tell them.
LBB> How did you cast the campaign? What were the big decisions sourcing the people and stories?
Jonny> Billy [Boyd Cape, the director] used street casting, social media and word of mouth. He had a simple question, “does anyone know any old people with amazing stories?” The response was epic. In the end we had so many potential people that it was really hard to narrow it down. Some were almost too extreme. We wanted to avoid ‘skateboarding grannies’ and ‘hang gliding grandpas’. They’re ad clichés right? But they do exist. We even found a few. The stories we were looking for needed to be more relatable to a broad younger audience. You know, to remind them that they have so much in common. We ended up with a perfectly diverse group from all over the UK. We knew they were the ones because we related to them. They felt relevant today. We were desperate to find out more about them.
Colin> From a Cadbury standpoint, we wanted a good mix of older people that represented the diversity of the UK but the key thing was they had to have a good story to tell. So good in fact, that you could sum it up in a line and still think “wow, that’s incredible.” The film is built using lots of people sharing small but fascinating snippets of their stories and lives. Starting with that intention led us to finding brilliant people
LBB> What guided the way the ad would look and how you would shoot it? Are they all in their own homes?
Jonny> We were blessed with the mega talented director Billy Boyd Cape and legendary Hollywood DOP Robbie Ryan. Covid dictated the process a little. Our original intention was to shoot in their homes. That couldn’t happen but by shooting at two locations we managed to create authentic worlds for our cast. It had to look like they belonged in those spaces but most importantly it was about allowing their personalities to shine.
LBB> The film is jam packed with realness. The moments with the people in it are so thrilling and joyous. What did it take to get those moments on camera just right?
Chris> Billy and Robbie were brilliant. And patient. Billy made them feel so relaxed. Remember these guys are not actors and some were quite frail. He asked them questions about their lives and let them riff. He’d then go back into their stories and coax out certain parts and lines. It’s quite a skill. The editing really brought it to life. It gave it an arc. Starting with the slower, unexpected ‘Don’t ask me’ lines then building up to a beautiful crescendo of rich, passionate storytelling.
LBB> What will be your enduring memory of this project?
Jonny> Without a doubt, the cast. Linethe, a 90-year-old who’s been to every Notting Hill Carnival. Harry, 82, left school at 11 to join the circus. Rose, 79, kissed Elvis Presley, in front of her husband. Ninette, 88, posed nude for David Bailey. Winston, 83, a former Mr 4th of July. Florence, 87, she’s travelled the world countless times. Phirose, 87, who drove in a rally to promote the UN. Bob, 81, who was tackled by the PM’s security guards. It was a privilege to be able to share their memories with the world and help inspire others to do the same.