06 April, 2013

The National Trust and Cadbury: an utterly commercial partnership

Last weekend my family and I visited one of our local National Trust haunts—Basildon Park—and our kids did the Easter trail there. These NT Easter trails are something that we’ve only recently started doing (just last year, I think), even though our kids have been around for over ten years now and even though we are regular NT visitors. I’m not sure why it’s taken us so long, really.

However, having started doing the trails, I am always rather stuck by their incongruity. They are an utterly commercial exercise. Sponsored by Cadbury, the staff greet you in large, attention-attracting tents, emblazoned with the word ‘Cadbury’ and the company’s logo. You pay a couple of pounds per child to enter and the aim (from your point of view) is to find all the clues that are hidden in the grounds of the house. Your prize, once you have completed the trail, is, naturally, a Cadbury’s egg.

The aim from Cadbury’s point of view is, presumably, some very well placed advertising. Strike a deal with an organisation that has sites countrywide which are visited by lots of people with kids over the Easter weekend and, hey presto!, you’re in the sights of a shed load of young potential customers, most of whom just LOVE chocolate.

Neat idea.

But the incongruity for me lies in the difference between the NT of today and the NT that I knew and loved as a child growing up in the seventies. I touched on this a while ago in a blog post that I wrote about NT tea rooms. Back when I was a kid, the NT was a dusty, old fashioned organisation that got very few visitors through the doors of its houses, even on bank holiday weekends. No point in Cadbury teaming up with the Trust in those days. But now, the NT’s sites are teaming with visitors, so much so that at peak times you have to queue up for entry and you don’t stand a chance of getting a table in the tea room—unless you happen to have extremely sharp elbows!

The National Trust has become an utterly commercial, utterly twenty-first century money-making machine. And its collaboration with Cadbury simply epitomises this.

When we were leaving Basildon Park at around 3pm, I heard the Cadbury staff turning one hopeful Easter trailer away. “We’re at capacity for this weekend,” they said. In other words, they’d run out of eggs. Much the same might be said of the Trust, I thought, with a rueful smile.

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