This. This goddamned gorilla. You remember this?
I love and hate this ad, the same way the French love and hate Napoléon. The Cadbury Gorilla spot was a quirk in the space-time continuum, where an ad from another dimension infiltrated our airways. In a world where everything works backwards, nothing was on-brand, it’s obnoxiously long, the product is never shown, and there is no message. Fallon ignored all the ingredients of a solid campaign and instead, microwaved the unusual daydream of some bloody Phil Collins fan, then served it up on the dessert platter that is primetime television.
I was having a discussion with an advertising veteran the other day, and he told me this spot was like the Fearless Girl of its day—immediately after it dropped, every CMO went up to Fallon and said, “Give us a gorilla!”
A sentient gorilla going mental on the drums for a minute and a half to Phil Collins. It defied all rational odds stacked against it. Even confronted with a salmonella recall, sales jumped 10% because of this ape.
But, there is no reason to have a gorilla playing the drums. And Phil Collins? Really? None of it says anything about chocolate either.
Apparently, none of that matters. The rules don’t exist.
I remember a theory from my finite-mathematics course during my undergrad. There was one particular hypothesis in probability theory that stuck with me:
Soviet mathematicians Aleksandr Khinchin and Andrei Kolmogorov came up with something called the Stochastic Process, which describes how something is randomly determined. Things have a random probability, or pattern that can be analyzed statistically, but not precisely predictable.
We could disagree with the communists on a lot of things, but I’m convinced the KGB were on to something there.
That’s how advertising works. That’s how everything works.
I’m dead serious. How do you explain a brilliantly executed campaign that’s dead on strategy and checks all the right boxes go complete flop? And outright dumb, half-baked work somehow catapult to success? I mean, speaking of gorillas — Harambe the dead gorilla dominated the internet for over a year, meanwhile my client spends $3 million in media for a YouTube mini-series and it gets surpassed by an “unboxing the newest iPhone” video that was uploaded 17 minutes ago by some teenage pizza-faced entitled gen-Z’er.
If you were the best chef in the world, and you prepared me your most exquisite dish, and everyone agreed it looked like Pescado a la Veracruzana, but I take a bite and it tastes like a vomit took a dump, how would you explain yourself?
I’m starting to believe there’s no secret to going viral or running a successful campaign anymore. Or warnings that something could go wrong. It’s all just the stochastic process at work.
It’s painful to imagine that succeeding and failing is sometimes just incidental, that it happens by chance, no matter the budget and brains that went into it. We’re used to seeking out answers. Our brains feel anxious and incomplete without them.
So with that, I’m going to make my own ad that defies all the rules of advertising. I’m thinking a 20-minute loop of David Hasselhoff playing a trombone in a valley of unicorns. Dressed as a gorilla.