Cadbury’s Freddo Treasures campaign backfires

Posted on: March 27, 2019 by

Searching for treasure and discovering new archaeological sites like Indiana Jones is every child’s dream. And this is exactly what Cadbury’s latest Freddo campaign sought to do. The relevant webpage listed a series of known archaeological sites in England, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland where “treasure is fair game”, and encouraged children to get a metal detector and search for their own archaeological treasures.

While this might at first sight seem innocent and have the advantage of getting children outside and encouraging an interest in the past, it was a heavily misguided and misinformed campaign. The resultant Twitter storm that erupted thereafter only served to prove this point. Unfortunately for Cadbury’s, searching for archaeological treasures is controlled and regulated by laws and guidelines: while this could give the impression of removing some of the romanticism of such an adventure, it is necessary to ensure archaeology is well recorded and available for the public. However, by failing to mention the laws and regulations that apply here, Cadbury’s left itself open to criticism from archaeologists and other heritage professionals. Thankfully, Cadbury’s has now pulled the campaign and is redesigning the campaign webpage.

Aside from encouraging children to go out “and get their hands dirty” the campaign also monetised archaeological finds and treasure, for instance by mentioning the gold ingots found at Mooghaun Fort in Ireland valued at €150 million, thereby incentivising the sale of precious metal-based archaeological finds. As discussed previously on this blog, the selling of archaeological finds is frowned upon and can even be illegal, as is the looting of archaeological sites.

The lack of information on correct procedure could have resulted in people falling foul of the law in many different ways:

  • Treasure – the campaign encouraged children to get a metal detector and start looking for treasure. While metal detecting is permitted in England, Wales and Scotland, permission from the landowner must always be sought. In England and Wales, recording of all finds through the Portable Antiquities Scheme is strongly encouraged. If an object thought to be treasure is found this must be reported to the coroner within 14 days of its discovery under the Treasure Act 1996. If the item is determined to be treasure, a value is given to it and it is then possible for a museum to purchase it. The object can be disclaimed if no purchasing museum is found, in which case it is returned to the finder. Any money from the sale of the object has to be divided between the finder and the landowner. The Treasure Act does not apply to Scotland where all archaeological finds are deemed treasure and must be reported. In Northern Ireland a licence must be issued by the Secretary of State before any archaeological excavating takes place, and this includes metal detecting, the same goes for Ireland with the licence issued by the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht;
  • Archaeological sites – the campaign listed various different known archaeological sites. Known archaeological sites are listed as scheduled monuments under the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979. Metal detecting and excavation of any size is forbidden on a scheduled monument without prior consent from the Secretary of State. This Act applies to England and Wales with an identical situation existing in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Ireland. Underwater sites such as wrecks are also protected and a licence must be acquired before diving to search for treasure. Any unsolicited excavation on a scheduled site could also be classed as criminal damage which carries a serious sentence on conviction;
  • Trespass – as mentioned above, if metal detecting one must seek permission from the landowner. Failure to do so may result in civil claims for trespass brought by the landowner;
  • Theft – under general principles of English common law, finds made on private land usually belong to the landowner, therefore their removal without the landowner’s consent would amount to theft. Furthermore, the illegal sale of such items could lead to prosecution under the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002.

While the website has been taken down and Cadbury’s has issued a statement explaining its intention was never to have people “break existing regulations”, it is hoped that the company will consult with archaeologists and heritage professionals. The absence of research into heritage and archaeology in the creation of this campaign suggests a certain lack of respect and consideration of the work archaeologists and heritage professionals do with the public to make sure they are engaged with their past. The work of metal detectorists is valuable when reported. It is only a small few who disregard the law and this must be discouraged at all costs.

In future, hopefully Cadbury’s will seek the advice from the many heritage organisations that exist and the new campaign will encourage children to discover treasures in a legal fashion, perhaps even in collaboration with one another so that all can benefit. As the Cadbury’s spokesperson has now said, “We are updating the content to focus solely on directing families to museums, where existing treasures can be found.”

Images used of Cadbury’s Freddo box and campaign c/o Asian Trader and BBC (© Cadbury’s).