Wednesday, 27 June 2018

Cadbury Century

When this commemorative brochure was published in 1931, chocolate manufacturers, Cadbury, had a very different relationship with their consumers than exists today. Successive generations of the Cadbury family had presided over the rapidly expanding business, exercising paternalistic control over an army of employees. As Victorians and Quakers they felt a sense of responsibility for the welfare of their workforce for whom they built homes and leisure facilities whilst encouraging a culture of sobriety and self-improvement. The second century was rather different and the family incrementally lost control and eventually, ownership of the business. Global capital took over and the connections with its Quaker origins evaporated.

Not sure how these prestigious brochures were distributed or whether copies went to members of the public or if they were confined to retailers or wholesalers but no expense was spared in the production values. Full colour illustrations throughout, many of them specially commissioned illustrations, and a textured card cover with embossing. The aim was very much to emphasise the continuity of the business and celebrate past achievements – with the onset of the Great Depression, there was little of substance about future plans. The power of our collective serotonin addiction ensures that the industry remains profitable. Cadbury battled for market share and absorbed several of its competitors to the point where further expansion became dependent on moving into other activities. From 1969 to 2008 it traded as Cadbury Schweppes before falling into the clutches of Mondelez in 2010. For Mondelez, Cadbury is just one of a vast portfolio of brands and as long as its performance targets are met, it will survive. If it loses its grip on the market, Mondelez has plenty of ammunition to fall back on – from its corporate HQ in the suburbs of Chicago it controls Toblerone, Suchard, Côte d’Or and Marabou, as well as Fry’s and Terry’s.

The brochure provides a fascinating review of the evolution of graphic styles in packaging and publicity – confectionery manufacturers competed for public attention with eye-catching wrappers and sustained campaigns across a wide range of media. This was the period when railway stations, football stadiums, public houses and High Street shops displayed an enormous gallery of enamel signs. This was followed by the rise of the poster – in the interwar years purpose built poster sites proliferated in town and city centres and suburbs along bus, tram and train routes. Chocolate makers made full use of these opportunities to get their message across. Some idyllic, fanciful views of the factory premises are included – a little steam engine, smartly turned out in company colours, puffs past with a trainload of company wagons on a perfect summer day. It’s the largest cocoa factory in the world, we are assured. The workers themselves are largely absent save for a picture of some white-coated female employees relaxing in a conspicuously sober and responsible fashion.

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