The “Milk Tray Man” leapt into the British consciousness in 1968. The black-clad stranger, dangling from the skids of a flying helicopter, dropped onto the balcony of an impressive home and slipped into a woman’s bedroom. There he left a gold-trimmed box of Cadbury Milk Tray and his calling card, his own black silhouette against a pure white background. In 19 television commercials aired over the next 35 years, the Milk Tray Man and his tagline—“And all because the lady loves Milk Tray”—delivered chocolates and the unmistakable message that the gift of Milk Tray was not an act of generosity but a display of manliness.[i]
One of the most famous Milk Tray Man advertisements, produced in the 1980s.
The Milk Tray Man finally retired in 2003. As a trade publication reported that year, Cadbury did not think the campaign for the assorted-chocolate box (first introduced as individual confections in 1915) was “relevant to today’s men and women.” The company planned to find a new way to market Milk Tray to a new generation as an impulsive gift, from either a man or a woman.[ii] But in 2015 for the product’s 100th anniversary, the company reintroduced the stereotypical gender roles of an aggressive male and passive woman and the heterosexual romantic themes of the classic Milk Tray Man advertisements, with a new but familiar hero and a throwback slogan: “And all because the lady still loves Milk Tray.”[iii]
Although the name “Milk Tray Man”—which does not appear in the typically dialogue-free original advertisements and was likely bestowed by the British public—conjures images of the milkman, a pedestrian figure in white, the original Milk Tray spokesman is a mysterious man, always dressed in a black turtleneck and black pants. He invites inevitable comparison to another unknowable British adventurer born of the same era: the movie version of James Bond. Both characters are presented as upper-class action heroes, with fast cars and luxury yachts in exotic locales, and both are presented as romantic figures, despite their cavalier attitudes toward a revolving cast of women.
A review of 15 of the original Milk Tray Man commercials available on YouTube and via other Internet sources shows the Milk Tray Man skiing through an avalanche, cliff diving, catching a ride on a crane hook, even challenging a shark, all in his mission to deliver a box of Milk Tray.[iv] In each commercial, he sneaks quietly into a woman’s bedroom—an act surprisingly few commentators have perceived as threatening—to leave his gift before disappearing.[v] In the majority of the commercials, the woman who is nominally the inspiration for and beneficiary of these heroics and chocolates is unseen until the very end, when her hand enters the frame to caress the chocolate box or the calling card. Aside from their bedroom decor, all we know of most of these women is their manicure, jewelry and the hint of a sleeve; most are attired with great innocence: pale nails, a single gold bracelet and a flouncy white sleeve of lace, silk or chiffon. In the earliest commercials, the women’s role as recipient is so passive that it is a shock to see one turn on a light.[vi] In 1990s, in an effort to update the commercials, the company increased the role of the woman, but she remained little more than an enticing silhouette.[vii]
In 2015, Cadbury announced a social media competition to select a new Milk Tray Man, which had previously been portrayed by a series of actors. Although the announcement suggested that the modern Milk Tray Man could be a woman, little of the language or imagery of the campaign supported this idea. As a representative of Cadbury’s advertising agency said in gendered language: “Since it first launched in 1915, Cadbury Milk Tray has always been the way to treat the woman you love. However, this sentiment has changed over time and with that so must our hero, who now needs to be thoughtful as well as adventurous.”[viii] Some 20,000 people entered Cadbury’s competition.
The new Milk Tray Man, revealed in February 2016, fit the mold of the old Milk Tray Man: a six-foot-tall firefighter from Liverpool, white, heterosexual and traditionally handsome. New commercials will not air until later this year, but the first images released by Cadbury and early events with the new Milk Tray Man reinforced the campaign’s anachronistic ideas of manliness.[ix]
Early images from the new Cadbury Milk Tray Man campaign
In one, the character stands, feet spread, staring at the camera, dressed in his firefighter’s uniform and grasping a box of Milk Tray, prepared to rescue a woman with chocolate. In another the man in black stands in front of a helicopter, its door open ready to whisk our hero and his chocolate to some unsuspecting woman’s bedroom. In an early publicity stunt, the new Milk Tray Man delivered chocolates to one lucky London woman; photos show him standing on the bow of a speedboat racing down the Thames.[x]
A mock advertisement created to show the intriguing
possibilities of a Milk Tray Woman campaign.
How different such a campaign might have been with a Milk Tray Woman. Imagine a powerful, adventurous Milk Tray Woman who would challenge stereotypes of gender prevalent in this Cadbury campaign and those of many other chocolate companies.[xi] Paired with the old-fashioned tagline “And all because this lady still loves Milk Tray,” a Milk Tray woman campaign would provide a fresh perspective on the dynamics of giving chocolate and introduce the idea that the gift of chocolate can be a loving act for a heterosexual partner, a homosexual partner or oneself.
[i] Ruki Sayid, “Milk Tray Man Returns as Cadbury’s Brings Back Romantic Hero of Classic TV Adverts,” Daily Mirror, August 12, 2015, accessed April 3, 2016 http://www.mirror.co.uk/tv/tv-news/milk-tray-man-returns-cadburys-6255063.
[ii] “Lighter touch, because,” Grocer, September 20, 2003, 69; and “The Story,” Cadbury, accessed April 3, 2016, https://www.cadbury.co.uk/the-story.
[iii] Sayid, “Milk Tray Man Returns as Cadbury’s Brings Back Romantic Hero of Classic TV Adverts.”
[iv] These videos come from a variety of sources, including Sayid, “Milk Tray Man Returns as Cadbury’s Brings Back Romantic Hero of Classic TV Adverts”; and YouTube links: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i0ya5kh4_ZM, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1KLJQ4ukhOw, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HwIsvoZiEVQ, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tzPSlXDKBOk, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b3Gzn5QpZVA, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FFksGxNfWEw, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=myWR3CElllo, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7WinByxUxhw and https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P_LWzvWPmlI.
[v] One example of this perspective: Peter Bradshaw, “The Milk Tray Ad Was Never Romantic, It Was A Horror Film,” The Guardian, February 5, 2016, accessed April 3, 2016, http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/feb/05/milk-tray-ad-romantic-horror-women.
[vi] As seen in Sayid, “Milk Tray Man Returns as Cadbury’s Brings Back Romantic Hero of Classic TV Adverts.”
[vii] “Milk Tray Boxed in by Old Fashioned Ideas,” Marketing, April 2, 1992, 3; and as seen in this 1992 commercial on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1KLJQ4ukhOw.
[viii] Kate Magee, “Cadbury’s Milk Tray Man Is Back To Find His Successor,” Campaign, October 9, 2015, accessed April 3, 2016, http://www.campaignlive.co.uk/article/cadburys-milk-tray-man-back-find-successor/1367742#1HoB0lHvlZOd0T40.99.
[ix] Gurjit Degan, “Cadbury Reveals new Milk Tray Man is Firefighter from Liverpool,” Campaign, February 3, 2016, accessed April 3, 2016, http://www.campaignlive.co.uk/article/cadbury-reveals-new-milk-tray-man-firefighter-liverpool/1381979#mJ46ocbee3GLxpKO.99.
[x] “Milk Tray Man: the PR Campaign that Keeps on Giving,” London PR and Social Media Agency, February 8, 2016, accessed April 3, 2016, http://londonpragency.com/milk-tray-man-the-pr-campaign-that-keeps-on-giving/.
[xi] Carla Martin, Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food, Lecture 9, Harvard Extension School, April 2016.
Bradshaw, Peter. “The Milk Tray Ad Was Never Romantic, It Was A Horror Film.” The Guardian. February 5, 2016. Accessed April 3, 2016. http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/feb/05/milk-tray-ad-romantic-horror-women.
Degan, Gurjit. “Cadbury Reveals new Milk Tray Man is Firefighter from Liverpool.” Campaign. February 3, 2016. Accessed April 3, 2016. http://www.campaignlive.co.uk/article/cadbury-reveals-new-milk-tray-man-firefighter-liverpool/1381979#mJ46ocbee3GLxpKO.99.
“Lighter touch, because.” Grocer. September 20, 2003.
Magee, Kate. “Cadbury’s Milk Tray Man Is Back To Find His Successor.” Campaign. October 9, 2015. Accessed April 3, 2016. http://www.campaignlive.co.uk/article/cadburys-milk-tray-man-back-find-successor/1367742#1HoB0lHvlZOd0T40.99.
Martin, Carla. Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food, Lecture 9. Harvard Extension School. April 2016.
“Milk Tray Boxed in by Old Fashioned Ideas.” Marketing. April 2, 1992.
“Milk Tray Man: the PR Campaign that Keeps on Giving.” London PR and Social Media Agency. February 8, 2016. Accessed April 3, 2016. http://londonpragency.com/milk-tray-man-the-pr-campaign-that-keeps-on-giving/.
Sayid, Ruki. “Milk Tray Man Returns as Cadbury’s Brings Back Romantic Hero of Classic TV Adverts.” Daily Mirror. August 12, 2015. Accessed April 3, 2016. http://www.mirror.co.uk/tv/tv-news/milk-tray-man-returns-cadburys-6255063.
“The Story.” Cadbury. Accessed April 3, 2016. https://www.cadbury.co.uk/the-story.