Cadbury – Classical Conditioning

Cadbury is a confectionery brand originating from Birmingham in the United Kingdom.  The firm has been owned by Mondelez International since 2012, after acquiring the brand from Kraft Foods.  Cadbury is most famous for its Dairy Milk Chocolate and its use of purple wrappers that have become synonymous with the firm.  The particular shade of purple Cadbury use is known as Pantone 2865c and is very much part of the brand’s identity; the color has been used since 1905.  However, this could now be subject to change.  Cadbury has lost a legal battle with Nestle, regarding the trademark of the color.  A trademark is a unique design, expression or sign that identifies a product.  Unfortunately for Cadbury, the UK Court of Appeal has ruled that the color purple is not distinctive enough to qualify as a trademark.  Consequently, the color Pantone 2865c can now be used by other confectionery manufacturers.

But why is this such a big problem for Cadbury?

This post will look at how a color becomes associated with a brand and the potential damage the court’s decision can cause Cadbury.

The process of brand identity association can be best explained by Pavlov’s Classical Conditioning theory:

When consumers see the color purple, their main thoughts are of luxury, high quality and royalty: all of these are positive associations with the color.  Before the association with purple, back in the late 19th Century, Cadbury would have been just recognized by consumers as a confectionery manufacturer when presented with their products or advertisements.

In the early 20th Century, Cadbury decided that they wanted their brand to be associated with the same qualities as the color purple.  The brand embarked on a long – albeit highly rewarding – process of pairing the Cadbury brand with purple.  This involves an integrated marketing communications strategy and coordination of the marketing mix to use the color purple as much as possible and in consistent formats over a long period of time – over one hundred years!

As you can see, when it comes to Cadbury the one color any consumer would immediately associate with the brand is purple.  This has been reinforced – or ‘paired’ – over many years to entrench the color into the brand’s identity.  The result of this is that consumers’ responses to Cadbury and purple become merged.  Thus, when exposed to a Cadbury’s chocolate bar or marketing they see and think of purple and then of luxury chocolate; or when consumers are presented with purple, there is a good chance that Cadbury may come to their mind and subsequently luxury chocolate.

If you really want to drill-down into the fine details of how this ‘pairing’ process works (which I do!), then we need the help of something called Balance Theory:

1. Balanced state without pairing

The first triangle shows the consumer’s state of mind before classical conditioning has taken place.  The consumer associates purple and luxury (etc.) to be associated with one another; this is because of societal norms and culture.  However, Cadbury is not considered to be linked with the color purple and thus not luxury either.

2Unbalanced state during pairing process

This second triangle is the consumer’s state of mind during Cadbury’s branding campaign.  At this point in time, the consumer has been exposed to plenty of marketing stimuli containing the color purple.  Hence, the consumer now believes there is a connection with Cadbury and purple – yet still no link with Cadbury and Luxury.  But this is an unbalanced state, which a consumer cannot remain in for a long period of time.  Namely, it is illogical to believe luxury and purple are synonymous, and that Cadbury and purple are associated together, but not Cadbury and luxury.

3. Balanced state after successful pairing

The consumer was exposed to further marketing stimuli to build a stronger bond between Cadbury and purple so that their state of mind becomes so confused they undergo an attitude change.  Therefore, they reconcile the previous ‘unbalance’ by associating Cadbury and luxury together; now all three constructs are related, which is a logical response.

So why is the trademark loss of the purple Pantone 2865c so disastrous?  There are two main reasons:

1. Improved authenticity of copy-cat products – as pictured above, if generic alternatives to Cadbury can now use the exact shade of purple it increases the chances of consumers mistaking the two, therefore Cadbury lose sales.
2. Damage to reputation – if cheaper products start using Pantone 2865c on a mass-scale, this purple may lose its association with luxury.  Instead, it could – in the consumer’s state of mind – become paired with poor quality.  In this case, all of Cadbury’s marketing will back fire on them!

In summary, purple has become associated with Cadbury as a result of consistent and integrated marketing communications.  The ability of generic or cheaper brands to use this exact shade of purple makes it harder to identify Cadbury’s products and potentially damages the Cadbury brand.

© Josh Blatchford, author of Manifested Marketing, 05/10/2013

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