Reflections on the recent ‘Cadbury Treasures’ Campaign

Cadbury has recently met with heavy criticism for its marketing campaign for Freddo treasures, which encouraged children to ‘get their hands dirty’, ‘grab a metal detector’, and go exploring across the UK. The campaign involved references to a range of British heritage sites, many of which are protected, and therefore quickly came under fire from advertising standard authorities, archaeologists and other professionals within the field for irresponsibly encouraging people to ‘dig’ for treasure.

Various responses to the campaign on social media pointed out that this campaign did not seem to acknowledge the legality of such actions, with many noting that digging in close proximity to an archaeological monument or site was a criminal offence where the necessary permissions had not been obtained and legal procedure not been followed – therefore, the campaign was dubbed negligent, misguided, and in other reports, ‘a fiasco’.[1]

The most scathing reports also noted that there seemed to have been no attempt to align the campaign with current legal practices and procedures; the 1996 Treasure Act, for instance, is not referenced at all within the marketing campaign.[2] The campaign also took no responsibility for advising their intended audience of the obligations related to obtaining permissions or licenses, of best practice in terms of health and safety or risk assessment, or other important considerations.[3]

In particular there were outraged responses related to the campaign’s mention of the Mooghaun fort site in Ireland, a country with strict regulations in place prohibiting the unauthorised use of metal detectors.[4] Complaints were also directed at the phrasing relating to this site particularly as it seemed to encourage looting and failed to warn their intended audience of the legal ramifications of ‘digging’ in such areas. Not only that, the image of this site is also incorrect – it is actually a photograph of Doonagore Castle!

Though the campaign is troubling on many levels, one subsequent issue it also raises is the sensationalist language used within such promotions. This is interesting in that the terminology adopted to describe the sites (and the actions of those participating in the Cadbury campaign) undoubtedly influences the public perception and understanding of engaging with archaeological sites. Perhaps ironically, the words ‘history’ and ‘archaeology’ don’t appear once in the Cadbury campaign. Instead, the terms ‘digging’, ‘treasure’ and ‘undiscovered’ appear frequently.

Is this what Cadbury believe will entice the general population? One of the most disturbing phrases is that objects found by someone participating in the campaign are ‘fair game’ – this in particular seems to be both a reflection of what Cadbury feel may motivate their participants, but also directly flouts current legal regulations.

Cadbury’s response to the negativity has included the removal of the webpage promoting the Freddo Treasures campaign, and a statement that the advert will subsequently be amended to alternatively direct children and their families towards museums.[5] This is somewhat of a wasted opportunity to revise and correct the campaign while still encouraging families to visit these sites – it would have been a welcome way to ‘right the wrongs’ of their earlier campaign by advising the public in a researched, appropriate way.[6] Rather than omit these sites entirely, the campaign could have attempted to educate and even better, consult with archaeologists and professionals within the heritage sector to produce an informed campaign that was both fun and taught their audience how important the protection and conservation of these sites are.

One positive outcome of the campaign, however, is the united front put on by many within the field who were motivated to object, which undoubtedly led to the hasty removal of the Cadbury’s webpage. It also brought the many ethical and legal issues of archaeology into mainstream media as a result, and demonstrated how many people value heritage sites across the UK. We can only hope that such responses continue to ensure that these important issues are discussed and addressed.