“Managing the Cadbury crisis was ‘baptism by fire'”

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Ajay Kakar

Ajay Kakar, Chief Marketing Officer-Financial Services, Aditya Birla Group

Well-known marketer, Ajay Kakar, started his career with an advertising agency. Today, he is the Chief Marketing Officer – Financial Services, Aditya Birla Group. He’s dirtied his hands at PR too when he was asked at a short notice at Ogilvy & Mather to lead Ogilvy Public Relations in India. It was at that time when Kakar realised the power of PR, and having particularly handled the Cadbury’s ‘worm’ case. While speaking to Impact – a media, marketing & advertising weekly magazine from the exchange4media Group – for its 8th Anniversary, Kakar speaks on his experience dousing the ‘worm’ fire…

“Having put in more than 11 years at Ogilvy & Mather – starting with Direct Marketing and then moving on to Advertising – it was possibly fated that I would get an opportunity to experience yet another discipline within the agency that propagated and championed the cause of 360-degree brand stewardship.

“In my 12th year at the agency, at short notice, I was asked to take charge of and lead Ogilvy Public Relations in India, in addition to my mandate as the Head of Ogilvy’s Financial Practice.

“On the eve of the festival season in 2003, just as I was getting acclimatised to this new mandate and discipline, both at the same time, a crisis struck a very valued client of the agency, Cadbury. Word spread like wildfire that Cadbury’s chocolates were unsafe for consumption.

“Vivid images of worms coming out of a bar of chocolate were being spooled across all TV channels and there was a fast-growing perception that this was the case with every bar of Cadbury’s chocolates.

“To cut a long and not-so-pleasant memory short, I shifted into Cadbury House for what seemed like a lifetime, partnering the senior management fight this unprecedented war against their brand.

“Today, this worm infestation episode is a distant memory in the celebrated history of the company and brand, as the brand has finally regained its sheen and emerged even stronger. With accolades from all sides, including the Cadbury worldwide network and industry recognition that included an Effie, this has become a case study in crisis management.

“But for me, personally, it was baptism by fire to the world of PR and the beginning of my love affair with the discipline, as I started appreciating its true power in the life of a brand.

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Neeta Nair

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