The modern Milk Tray Man: Mondelez makes use of memory structure

I had a pang of nostalgia  when I read that Mondelez has brought back “The Milk Tray Man” to market its Cadbury’s Milk Tray chocolates. This is a character that was last used 13 years ago. Check out an absolutely classic example of the campaign below.

This is a great example of tapping into the “memory structure” created by distinctive brand properties.

1. Remember what made you famous

Looking back at what made the brand famous reveals a rich collection of brand properties. The words “All because the lady loves…” would prompt many UK readers of a certain age to instantly recall Cadbury’s Milk Tray, even though the ad has not been aired for 13 years. That’s the power of memory structure, hard-wired associations that evoke the brand. Other brand properties include the theme and of course the Milk Tray Man himself, in his signature black polo neck jumper. The James Bond-style figure undertook daring adventures to secretly deliver the box of the chocolates.

Guess how long the campaign ran for. Five years? Ten years? After all, a decade of consistency would be pretty good for most brands. Nope. The answer is 35 years, from 1968 to 2003, with a total of 19 adverts in the series, according to this report. Each version of the ad gave a different twist to the campaign, creating what we call “fresh consistency”.

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2. The power of a brand story

The Milk Tray Man is an especially potent property because its more than a 2-D visual device. Rather, he was part of a story of daring-do to deliver the chocolates to the lady he loved. Even better, the brand had a starring role in the story. This wasn’t “sponsored entertainment” where the brand logo is slapped at the end as an afterthought. No, here the brand is central, being the whole reason for the hero’s mission. Each ad ends with a hand placing a calling card with the hero’s silhouette on the box of chocolates.

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3. Refresh what made you famous?

Having decided to revive the Milk Tray Man brand property, the big challenge was how to refresh it to make it relevant for today. Firstly, the character itself needed updating. “Cadbury Milk Tray has always been the way to treat the woman you love. However, this sentiment has changed over time and with that so must our hero, who now needs to be thoughtful as well as adventurous,” as Mondelez International senior brand manager Hortense Foult Rothenburger explained here.

Second, the team have made the most of modern media to amplify the brand property. The campaign kicked off with actor James Coombes, who played the role in 1987, watching a selection of scenes from the historic ads before announcing “The search is on. New Milk Tray Man, step forward.” Members of the public could then audition to become the new Milk Tray Man.

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A further film showing celebrities trying, and mostly failing, to win the role got more than 1 million Youtube views. All this before the actual campaign with the new Milk Tray man launches.

In conclusion, the Cadbury’s Milk Tray team have remembered and refreshed what made the brand famous, bringing back and brushing up one of the most iconic campaigns ever. Time will tell if its enough to revive the brand in a marketplace that has become much more crowded and “premiumised” since The Milk Tray Man’s last mission, with brands such as Green & Blacks and Hotel Chocolat.