As Cadbury nears its 75th year in India, Mondelez India’s new vice president of marketing, Nitin Saini, talks to Laura Swinton about the brand’s journey and how it’s bringing together tech, data and creative storytelling
For the new vice president of marketing at Mondelez India, Nitin Saini, among his many duties he has the tasty task of stewarding the beloved Cadbury brand. Since stepping into the new role in November, Nitin has been getting up to speed with Cadbury’s truly pioneering blend of emotive storytelling, tech, data and scale.
It’s something of a homecoming too for Nitin. He’s worked all over the Mondelez International portfolio internationally, including regional roles across APAC and North America, and most recently he served as VP for Oreo US. But he’s returning to Mondelez India, where it all began for him as a management trainee on the Cadbury brand in the early 2000s.
Nitin says that the priorities for this role are to ‘further strengthen the bond with our consumers; innovate to meet distinct consumer needs; and accelerate our journey on data and digital’.
But to really understand where Cadbury and Mondelez India are going, you first need to know where it came from.
Rewind to 1948, when Cadbury Dairy Milk first entered India, and the brand faced a real challenge - chocolate was seen as a childish novelty in comparison to the country’s wealth of homegrown sweet treats. “With a strong seven-decade journey, the brand has created a sweet spot in the mind and hearts of consumers across the country. However, the journey was not always a smooth ride,” reflects Nitin. “When the brand first entered the country, the most critical task at hand was to create category adoption for chocolates. For a country obsessed with traditional sweets, chocolates were initially seen as a product for children only.”
All that changed in 1994 with the brand’s iconic ‘Asli Swad Zindagi Ka’ campaign, from long-term partner Ogilvy. “The iconic ad featuring a young woman dancing on a cricket field with absolute abandon enjoying a bar of Cadbury Dairy Milk, broke the brand’s ‘kids-only’ image and positioned it as a product for adult consumption, says Nitin. “Since then, there has been no looking back.” In 2021, the brand updated the iconic campaign with a gender-swapped remake.
Aspirational and forward-looking, in the 2000s the brand started working with Bollywood megastar Amitabh Bachchan to persuade Indians that Cadbury Dairy Milk is a celebration treat that can play a similar role in festivities as traditional sweets. The campaign ran under the banner ‘Kuch Meetha Ho Jaaye’ - or let’s have something sweet. But over time, the spirit of generosity became a core part of the brand’s purpose, and that strapline evolved to the current brand idea ‘Kuch Accha Ho Jaaye, Kuch Meetha Ho Jaaye’ (let’s have something good, let’s have something sweet’).
“This was an important step for the brand towards their vision to move from storytelling to story-doing. Hence, recently we also took the stance of encouraging people to not only celebrate but take part in other’s happiness with our ‘Kissi Aur Ki Khushi Main Shaamil Hokar Dekhiye’. Throughout the journey, the most important aspect for us was to ensure the brand places trust, generosity, and authenticity at the center of all its communication. “
Leaning into that sense of purpose, the brand’s 70th anniversary celebration featured a boy sacrificing his chocolate for his younger brother. During the pandemic, the brand championed unsung heroes, in particular cricket ground staff. And now that message of kindness is getting a boost from technology.
“For a brand that has always represented a plethora of emotions, our priority has been to successfully capture every consumer’s spirit across marketing initiatives. We will continue to strengthen connections with consumers and shine a spotlight on little acts of kindness via numerous mar-tech efforts. Backed by technology and innovation, we aim at working towards our purpose of inspiring people to look beyond their own realities and create shared moments of happiness.”
Indeed, says Nitin, “‘Being Digital First’ remains one of the core focus areas at Mondelez India. We are constantly looking at newer avenues to leverage the vast knowledge of people’s wants and needs to build personal connections on digital channels.”
In recent years there have been plenty of examples of what digital first means for Cadbury and Mondelez India. There’s the 2020 Diwali campaign ‘Iss Diwali Aap Kise Khush Karenge’ [Not Just a Cadbury Ad] and the following year’s ‘Shah Rukh Khan My Ad’ which used data and AI to personalise and localise ads so that they could support local small businesses. “We deployed the power of AI to make ourselves available to our consumers in a manner that seems crafted just for them. With such hyper personalisation at scale, we aimed at invoking a sense of generosity and built yet another immersive brand experience,” says Nitin, who points out that they’ve done similar work starring Hrithik Roshan, around the festival Rakhi, a celebration of the brother-sister relationship.
Over the past year the brand has used platforms like Instagram, Facebook, WhatsApp, each in a tailored manner to drive campaigns across the brands. There was an anti-cyberbullying campaign that leveraged Instagram from Cadbury Dairy Milk’s Purple Heart, and a unique WhatsApp chatbot created for Cadbury Bournvita to raise awareness around child mental health. Cadbury 5star Nothing Coin, was a cryptocurrency that could be mined by doing nothing, created to encourage young people to take a break from the hustle and grind.
These projects require a sophisticated handle on data, and Mondelez India has been working hard to develop its first party data practice. “First Party Data is a key priority for us as it allows us to serve our consumers better, by serving them offerings from our brands that are truly relevant for them. It also allows us to remarket our offerings to our consumers based on their specific interests, affinity, cohort, not only making it relevant for them but also efficient for us as marketers,” he says. “We’ve been doing numerous test-and-learns as an organisation to leverage the first party data, especially on our owned digital platforms such as Cadbury Dessert Corner, Cadbury Joy Deliveries etc. to drive both traffic and conversions, and for our niche offerings such as Bournville Dark Chocolate, to reach out to specific consumer cohorts who are interested in a dark chocolate offering. Having said that, data privacy will always remain key for us and protecting our consumers is a priority we never compromise on.”
But that tech and data cleverness ultimately is in service to emotion and empathy. “We use the principal of “empathy at scale”; all our campaigns start with the human insight of our brand, and then we look for relevant data signals for the target audience to come up with ideas that build both emotional connection and are relevant to different consumer cohorts by leveraging tech at scale,” explains Nitin. “For example, Not Just a Cadbury Ad featuring Shah Rukh Khan used AI, deepfake and customization at scale, but its genesis was Cadbury’s purpose of bringing more generosity into the world – we put empathy first.”
All of this couldn’t be possible without a tight collaboration between the marketing team, Cadbury’s agencies and the tech platforms. That means bringing creative and media closer together than one might expect.
“Creative and data is now at the heart of everything we do. To ensure that creative and media work together, right from the briefing stage to the campaign idea and IMC execution, it is a joint effort by One WPP: Ogilvy & Wavemaker – our creative and media partners on Cadbury,” says Nitin. “This has ensured a much stronger collaboration between brand, creative and media. Furthermore, our marketing team and creative and media partners regularly engage with tech partners like Google and Meta thus, making sure that we are in sync and thinking more holistically about our campaigns.”
One project that displays that coming together of tech, localisation, data, creativity and, of course, empathy with the consumer is ‘Madbury’. First launched in 2019, it’s an annual initiative that invites consumers to mix and match flavour combinations to create their own Cadbury, and the most popular two will be launched as limited edition packs.”
“While consumers have been trusting brands that offer customisation, we believe that co-creation will allow consumers to feel more connected to the brand,” says Nitin. “Additionally, the campaign also gives the brand a peek into the world of evolving consumer palate as well as helps us in speaking the language they understand and value the most.“
Madbury 2021 saw a whopping 3.2 million people engage. Nitin attributes it to Mondelez India’s constantly front-footed approach to digital marketing. Madbury saw Mondelez collaborating with Google and Meta as well as JioEngage to create the experience. The likes of Hubspot and customer data platforms like Lytic allowed them to develop a sophisticated CRM strategy, remarketing to people who had engaged in previous years.
Madbury 4.0 launched in December 2022 and this time the brand wants to create a real celebration of India’s innate diversity. “After three successful editions of Madbury in India, we wanted to take the next edition a notch higher and offer consumers an opportunity to not only create a Cadbury alone but also pair up with someone from across the country for a multi-cultural touch. The idea was to allow consumers to co-create a Cadbury, staying true to the brand’s promise of bringing people together over a bar of ever- loved Cadbury chocolate,” says Nitin.
Indeed, this year they’re going to be leaning into real Indian flavours, following the signals they’ve seen in previous year’s data. “All the previous editions of this campaign have been well received and introduced some interesting indigenous ingredients such as the Crispy Rabdi in the previous version of Madbury which was a hit. Keeping this in mind, we’ve consciously offered consumer options of truly Indian flavours, ranging from mava kulfi to mysore pak in sweets and desserts category and from kesar badaam milk and thandaai to filter coffee in Desi Drinks,” explains Nitin. “Such flavours will not only be a first for India but for the world, and this will truly bring first- of- its kind innovative eat experiences to the market created by the consumer, for the consumer.”
What’s fascinating about Madbury is that it’s reaching beyond India’s densely populated, tech-savvy urban areas into rural India. Indeed while reaching those rural populations can present a challenge for digital-first marketers, thanks to some instances of poor connectivity or lower literacy, Mondelez India is working hard to engage. “We’re at the forefront of leading the digital marketing efforts in rural India and have been experimenting both with media – leveraging platforms like Jio, Sharechat, Google and Meta Rural Solutions as well as with our communication strategy and using vernacular content creators with a diverse follower base,” says Nitin. “These platforms help us in exploring tailor made solutions for also winning in the rural markets.”
Just months into the new role, Nitin has found himself at the nexus of a brand that’s pulling together all of the most exciting developments in marketing and at a scale that is unimaginable for those outside of India. He’s able to build upon the foundations established by Anil Viswanathan, the former VP of marketing at Mondelez India, who has been elevated to managing director of Mondelez International for Vietnam and Southeast Asia.
There are plenty of exciting opportunities ahead. For example, Nitin reveals, there’s still some opportunity to expand the per capita chocolate consumption in India. Moreover, he sees a substantial role for evolving trends such as creating tailored, personalised experiences for customers and technologies like AI, augmented reality (as seen in a recent Cadbury Lickables campaign) and virtual reality. “In this ever-evolving landscape, one can’t just rely on their tried-and-true marketing best practices,” Nitin muses.
But beyond tech, what Nitin really wants to do is to develop that purpose of kindness and generosity. “Over the years, Cadbury has enjoyed top-of-the-mind recall and has weaved generosity seamlessly in the overall messaging. We don’t just want to stop at communication, we want to make it more purposeful. That’s where the platform of generosity came to play. We believe that kindness goes a long way. A moment of kindness could be remembered for a lifetime, and this universal notion is a fundamental element in the stories.”
That journey to grow Cadbury’s ‘empathy at scale’ in India won’t stop. And as the brand approaches its 75th anniversary in the country, we can’t wait to taste what’s next.