Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Bars for Canada, Bikes for Ghana, Bucks for Cadbury

I love a feel good, help-the-world, tree-hugger type story. I love a good creamy, rich, sinfully sweet bar of chocolate too. So I should be impressed that Cadbury Canada partnered with Cadbury Ghana and the Bicycle factory, to donate 5000 bicycles to needy children in Ghana.

The campaign ran through the summer this year in Canada. All you had to do was buy a Caramilk or Dairy Milk or Dentyne gum etc. and send in the UPC code. For every hundred codes, Cadbury donated one bicycle, until the number reached 5 thousand.

Here’s the feel-good commercial that accompanied the campaign.

Instead of feeling inspired though, I was disturbed by the following:

1. Can we assume Canadians had an altruistic motive in participating? Come on, they only had to buy a chocolate bar. Hardly seems like selfless sacrifice…

2. Cadbury’s (the confection division of Cadbury Schweppes) revenue last year was over USD $5 Billion. I estimate the cost of this promotion for them to be about USD $225,000 or roughly twenty two thousand times less than their profits. Hardly seems like a HUGE sacrifice on their part either really.

3. Therefore this smells like a MASSIVE promotion for the Cadbury brand at little cost, and I’m not sure what impact.

4. My other concern is with the implications of the advert. They show the ‘African child’ using the bicycle as the following:

a. An ambulance – This is pathetic and sad but true. By showcasing this, Ghana is forced to admit that there is no healthcare in rural areas, and kids with bicycles will be expected to carry ill people to far off hospitals. The unimplied but more disturbing issue is the complete lack of facilities that will be awaiting them when they arrive.

b. A water truck – Hello! What happened to the millions and millions of wells donated and dug by the hundreds of NGOs over the years? Again, Ghana admits there is no safe drinking water for miles upon miles… and a kid on a bicycle is the answer????!!!!

c. A school bus – well as Canadians, the first thing that should strike us is the complete and utter lack of safety depicted here. The video shows 4 people on one bicycle – with a toddler sitting in the front basket, completely unharnessed. Over the untarred roads of rural Ghana. I guess it’s the assumption that if you can get 4 kids to school whatever way possible, then you’ve done your part – throw safety out the window, afterall they’re only African kids who would have had to walk anyway… There is no inference in this advert that of the small percentage of rural kids who actually go to school, most can expect to spend half their time labouring on their 'teachers' farms...

So thanks Canadians for eating more chocolate, making Cadbury richer and helping Africa by asking 5000 lucky juvenile recipients to solve Africa’s massive problems with bicycles!!!

Cadbury has been under fire recently for exploitative fair trade marketing, so it’s no wonder they are aiming to boost their reputation as a caring community oriented company.

According to Toyin Agbetu, head of Education and Social policy at Ligali, “Cadbury has a long history of exploitative behavior in Ghana. It was formed in England by the Quakers in 1900 and moved to what was then called the ‘Gold Coast’ in 1907. Its rampant abuse of the system of colonial enslavement in order to extract the best quality cocoa beans made the company the huge profits it enjoys today.”

What exactly constitutes fair trade status? In Cadbury’s case, they have agreed to pay $150 per tonn of cocoa above the minimum market price.

I posted a recent advert Cadbury’s released, promoting their fair trade brand of chocolate from Ghanaian cocoa. Agbetu points out that the advert alone “is likely to have cost more to make than their ‘social premium’ (of $150 per tonn) could generate in usable revenue each year.”

Sorry Brett - I tried to get positive about this one. It's great the kids got some bikes, but if you ask me, Cadbury's got a whole lot more out of the deal. And Canadians got to feel good about splurging on chocolate. Hmmmm.
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Lorac said...

I never saw this ad campaign. Rather glad of that now. There is always a tiger lurking in the bush, isn't there? Sorry to hear another cash grab and publicity stunt got past us again!

Krissy said...

Really good points. Thanks for posting.

Reema B. said...

I've been taking a class in Social Entrepreneurship and this post reminded me of the time we talked about Nike and their sweatshops and then them suddenly being all charitable and creating programs particularly for young girls.

It is indeed utterly disgusting and it is hard to believe that such hidden agendas and greed can still go on in our "modern", "civilized", and "cultured" worlds. It is childish if you think about it, we should have grown up by now and learned that being "good" doesn't necessarily mean being "anti-capitalism" and that no one has the right to be excluded as human beings.


Come visit the **Tea House** to have **Tea_Time** within ourselves, within, with others, with life...& beyond!

Miss Footloose said...

Holli, I agree with your reactions. I sure was turned off by the ambulance to start with, of course, and the fake do-gooder stuff we're supposed to chew and swallow like chocolate.

Then a thought popped into my head: They forgot cattle transport, and your photo of the guy on the bike with the goat on his back ...

mangotree said...

one thing that crossed my mind watching this add was 'where is this music from' it sounded like it was from South Africa or that region. And it made me think about the fact that in the last couple of years all the films that take place in Africa are being filmed in S Africa, as it is the ' safest and best equipped' for filming.
Looking at the add, as someone who had visited Ghana four times, even never more than one month, over the last 11 years, the add didn't make me think of Ghana. It made me think of a soppy Hollywood style interepretation of Africa, a generic place.
And then also all the things you pointed at in your post.
But one wonders if we should not be simply happy that 5000 kids will get a bicycle and stop trying to make the rest of the world understand that Africa is more than just unsafe transport, disease, poverty and tear inducing music.

Matthew said...

I wish I could disagree.

The pale observer said...

Hi everyone - after I wrote this I felt a little bit of a 'Bah Humbug' but it is just annoying. I woke up this morning and felt the same... In fact I had underrepresented the Cadbury revenues - mistook Billions for mere millions - silly me.

They made over $5 billion. The majority of the cocoa they use comes from Ghana.

Yes, the advert is disturbing and un-Ghanaian.

They do film 90% of 'African' films out of South Africa, so they can stay at the fancy hotels after filming and enjoy the relatively Western offerings. REAL Africa on the other hand is only depicted - by visiting the rougher areas in SA!

The pale observer said...

That song is DEFINITELY South African, and the kids on the bike look suspiciously South African too... hmmm

planetnomad said...

And also, how many times do people in the west have to say "in AFRICA things are like this..." Um. I live in Rabat and it looks nothing like that, but I'm in Africa. (Ok the scooters look a bit like that, but that doesn't take away from my point!)

LMJ said...

You have good points. I agree. The video is a bit disturbing.
However, something is better than nothing.

Reema B. said...

planetnomad: I definitely hear you!! I hear the same things where I'm studying in America about the Middle East (I come from Dubai, UAE. I mean, true, poverty, social problems, etc. and/or religious fanatics are everywhere and maybe more focused in certain places but many people just don't seem to want to dissolve their prejudices and stereotypes and the idea that the media doesn't always portray the full picture!)


You're more than welcome to come visit the Tea House at

Joshua said...

I'm not condoning it in anyway, just pointing out that perhaps those the ad was marketed toward would have no earthly idea the difference between SA and Ghana. Therefore it wouldn't matter to the filmmaker either. Sad, but true.


Land of shimp said...

Well, it's problematic. For starters, is altruism truly attainable, and does the motive really matter if good is done? I can tell you that one of my pet causes, throughout the course of my life has been food banks. I volunteer for them regularly, and I donate to them also.

You know, I'm actually helping to feed people, and that's a good thing, right? Can I claim it is a purely altruistic act on my part? Ummm. Errrr. Jeez, I'd really like to, but when I'm being honest about it I admit that it not only makes me feel better about the world around me, it makes me feel like I'm doing good within the world. I mean, it's not exactly fun to be sitting here admitting, "Well, it isn't as if I get nothing out of really isn't. I am giving something, and I am definitely getting something." whether it be constructed hope, a boost to the self-esteem, etc. etc. Hey, what about how other people perceive me when I say that I regularly volunteer? That's part of it, right?

Is that really all the different than buying a specific chocolate bar? The reward is different, the amount effort put in is too, but we do things because we get things out of it, to varying degrees.

Just hanging that out there. What I do is hardly an entirely selfless act, either...just perhaps a teensy bit more so than eating a chocolate bar (and then don't forget, following through on mailing it to the company, there is some effort).

The depiction of Africa, and the use of the bike is pretty cringe worthy. Bowling for cliches and stereotypes, not to mention presenting as whimsical some very hard truths about certain parts of Africa.

The Fair Trade practices of Cadbury are pretty appalling, by the way. I'm not sure it's any worse than how a place like Whole Foods suckers consumers into believing they are supporting fair trade -- counting on the fact that the consumer really doesn't have an inkling what that constitutes.

Anyway, it isn't altruism, it's done for gain. Most things are done for some gain, and as much as I'd like to lay claim to doing things solely for noble reasons, when I'm honest with I'm getting something out of it too, a mental chocolate bar, if you will.

It's far from a perfect and noble campaign, that's for sure. It's got some insulting elements, to boot.

I guess I'm wondering though: Is there a good impact from those five thousand bicycles? And if you are the recipient of one, does the intent behind it ("yum, chocolate.") matter?

Poindexter said...

yes, good points, all. Not really an easy topic to navigate. Corporations are solely responsible to their shareholders. Period. No requirement to donate profits to any entity whatsovever. But corporations are increasingly pressed to represent themselves as responsible global citizens. There are no guidelines for what this is supposed to look like. The cause-marketing arena is murky indeed. -Diane

Anonymous said...

The bikerider no be a ghanaian-o. Pretty sure a woman living in rural ghana would not go out of the house in those short shorts, its not correct or? (yes they are not the shortest of shorts but women showing their thighs in rural ghana...since when).

The pale observer said...

Wow everyone thanks for the comments. Land of shimp - getting involved in your own community at food banks, where you can see the beneficiaries and trust the place/people running it - that is WAY different than eating a chocolate bar and convincing yourself that you are doing something good.

Your situation IS actually noble and worthy and helpful. the other, I believe, is not.

Joshua - yes it's sad that 90% of the audience wouldn't know the difference or care that the commercial is not depicting Ghana. Anon is right - no self respecting rural Ghanaian young woman would be out on a bicycle in shorts!!!

Miss Footloose said...

Planetnomad, unfortunately many people think Africa is a country. Your comment makes me think of the many times I've heard Americans say "in Europe, they..." and I'd ask, "You mean Sweden or Turkey?" Great looks I'd get. ;)

Reema B. said...

I would highly recommend everyone here to read "The Power of Unreasonable People" by John Elkington and Pamela Hartigan which talks about Social Entrepreneurship; definitely related to this post and the discussions going on here ;-) Here's the link to the book on amazon if any of you are interested:

I would also highly recommend taking a look at Muhammad Yunus's video about the concept of a "social business" and its role in poverty alleviation:

After taking a class in Social Entrepreneurship and looking at sources like what I just shared, it made me realize how we all just keep creating more and more excuses to not use our creativity and passion to help solve our global problems. To be honest, and with all due respect, I sadly saw such illustrations of this here in the comments of this post which is what prompted to share these links with you.

In the meantime, you're all welcome to relax in the **Tea House**:

Stacie said...

Hmmm...I appreciate the analysis of the ad campaign and also the glaring misconceptions about Ghana that it portrays. I, having never visited Ghana or any country in Africa really, would not have been able to deduce what those misconceptions are. When I watched it, I clicked on the video first, then read the post and the comments. As a Jane-6packer, I was at first emotionally hit with the feeling of surprise when watching the bikes used for water/ambulance/ect. and that I never thought about all the ways something that I take for granted and use for recreation could be used to save a life or make life better. The ad also made me curious about the little story I watched and has prompted me to find out more about the countries in that has to be a good thing. I don't think the majority of us, if we are honest, do anything without an expectation of getting something out of it. However, this did provide an excellent opportunity to learn more about authenticity and to dig a bit deeper. Thank you!

Mary and Sean said...

this seems to be the way it is with much of the development work and donation projects in Africa. I saw some similar crazy things in Namibia, including these groups that would come in and donate all kinds of computer equipment to a school with no electricity.

Did any research go into their altruistic aims? None, but it didn't stop them from feeling good about themselves. No one told them how many of their donations were stolen by the school administration and sold off for a personal gain...

sylviadickeysmithbooks said...

Great information. Thanks for posting and helping educate us.

Michelloui said...

Wow--on the one hand I am pleased the children got something out of it... and yet you;re right: this smacks of blatant PR at the ultimate expense of a group of people--exploitation of Ghana's sad situation. Excellent points.

Solvang Sherrie said...

Wow, you know, that commercial knows how to tug at the heart strings. I watched it before I read your comments and since I'm not from Ghana my first thought was, Cool. Eat some chocolate, help a child. But the points you make are very valid and it makes me wonder how many other times I've been sucked into a bad idea just because I didn't think it through all the way.

Michelloui said...

Hi Holli!

Guess what--you've won the English Breakfast Tea tin on my blog, Mid-Atlantic English!!!


For some reason I'm not able to use the email button on your sidebar so can you please contact me with your address details?

My email is ml_garrett at yahoo dot co dot uk

Congratulations! And thank you for following Mid-Atlantic English.


The pale observer said...

Hi Michelle - THANKS! My e-mail is

ADRIAN said...

Holli' How many bikes did they buy...Know anyone with one? Better to donate the money but to whom, charities today are run by entrepreneurs on massive salaries so little of the donation ever reaches the intended recipient.
If there's a market out there tap it. Sad it has to be poverty.

Michael said...

Hi Holli, I'm very interested in your critique of Cadbury's Bike Factory project because I worked on its implementation. I run a non-profit in Namibia that distributes bicycles as a development tool ( and was approached by Cadbury to support the design and implementation of their project. I thought you and the people who responded to your post might appreciate a little background on the development objectives of the project.

In a nutshell, Cadbury Canada thought 5,000 bikes might be useful in cocoa growing communities in Ghana. They didn't know exactly how though, so before committing to delivering them they consulted a number of development organisations working in Ghana. The feedback that these organisations got from the communities they work in was overwhelmingly that giving them to students living a long way from school would have the greatest impact on community development. The communities also advised providing bikes to teachers living far from school.

The minimum distance from school for children to qualify is 3km or more, and where bikes were limited, the most distant students and teachers were favoured. Some of the kids receiving bikes live up to 18km from school, which simply means they don't attend most days.

Various ownership strategies were adopted by the different communities. Some communities will maintain ownership of the bicycles after the children complete school and redistribute them to new students. Others will allow the children to use the bikes for a year, then if their marks improve, give them the option of paying a fee to the school that will be used to buy more bikes, after which they will own their bike outright--thus, hopefully, avoiding a damaging hand-out mentality.

Teams of local bicycle repairers, cocoa farmers and school children from the communities where the bikes will be distributed were trained in the assembly of bicycles prior to the main consignment arriving, and these people went on to assemble the (semi-built) bikes when they arrived.

Something I respected about Cadbury's approach was that they were completely hands-off in the decision-making process about who should receive the bikes and how the process should be managed.

I can't say that Canadians who participated were being altruistic. I think they had some fun, and hopefully paused to think about how providing mobility to school children in Ghana might improve their lives.

I certainly can't argue that it wouldn't be great if large corporations gave much more to empowering people in Africa, though I do wonder whether Cadbury would have attracted this criticism if they'd simply spent the money on billboard ads for Dairy Milk bars in Canada.

Using bicycles as medical transport, to transport water and to take passengers may all be less than ideal by developed-country standards, but I would argue that using a bicycle to carry out these tasks is preferable to walking or not being able to do them at all.

I'd be glad for any feedback, and welcome emails to michael(at)

-Michael Linke

Anonymous said...

"Cadbury Canada thought 5,000 bikes might be useful in cocoa growing communities in Ghana"

Top down development. Business as usual.

Expat mum said...

I agree with everything you said, but as someone who is desperately trying to raise funds for a remote Ghanaian school, I have to say I wouldn't really care where the bikes came from as long as it meant some of the kids could get to school without a horrendously long walk.
It would be a lot better though, if companies like Cadbury could just send the money directly there instead of on an extensive advertising campaign.

The pale observer said...

Thanks Expat mum! I must say, the sending of money can always be dangerous, so the sending of actual items is far less likely to be a temptation for corruption.

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