Advertising and marketing has grown to consume nearly every aspect of life in the capitalist economies of the world. Companies and corporations employ the tactics of fighter pilots as they bombard the public with image after image and video after video. Posters, billboards, television commercials, and internet pop-ups all vie for the attention and the wallets of consumers. In the United States, the average American is exposed to as many as 5,000 marketing messages a day (cbsnews.com). Chocolate companies are no exception to this rule, spending more than $17 billion annually on advertisements.
In their maddened rush to make their ad the most noticeable, the most innovative, or the most avant-garde, advertisers seek not to only simply sell a product, but to mold the countenance of the consumer into complete brand loyalty. To accomplish this, advertisers present distorted images as reality to consumers; advertisements are their vehicles for this manipulation: advertisements, according to Judith Williamson, “invite us ‘freely’ to create ourselves in accordance with the way in which they have already created us” (qtd. in Robertson 19). As a result, advertisements often present a controversial face to their consumers. In the case of women in advertisements, they are often sexualized and objectified based on their physical desirability. Once again, chocolate corporations and advertisers are no exception to the normal rule. In chocolate campaigns, females are often portrayed in the throes of orgasmic ecstasy upon consuming a bar or bathing naked in the melted candy. Not all chocolate advertisements are equal in their portrayal of the sexual woman, but so pervasive is the chocolate industry’s advertising model of the hyper-sexualized woman that even when a company makes something that appears to contrast this standard model, the sexual woman is still very much present.
So pervasive is the model of selling women as sexual beings in chocolate advertisements that even objects that have merely been ascribed to the female gender are sexualized. In no other advertisement could this be clearer than this M&M’s advertisement. The following advertisement depicts the green M&M, until recently the only female M&M character, handcuffed to a tree with one leg wrapped seductively around the trunk. She is, of course, representing the Green Party.
This advertisement can be construed as a sign of environmental activism. Miss Green is using her body to protect a tree that is in danger of being cut down as the other trees in the background have been. However, the caption below her signature white heels dispels any doubt that this female candy character is being sexualized. It states: “Miss Green, working the polls.” This green candy is being equated to a poll dancer. The handcuffs are reminiscent of those used in sexual acts. The sexualizing of characters that are only ascribed the gender of female shows the chocolate industry’s sexual obsession with the female form: it extends to anything simply labeled as female.
Chocolate advertisements featuring women cannot be divided into two worlds—sexual and bad, sexless and good—only a spectrum of criticisms can accurately demonstrate women’s convoluted portrayal in chocolate ads. The following advertisement perfectly exemplifies the middle ground. It is a vast improvement from the pure carnality of the M&M’s advertisement, but it still presents the image of a woman who is sexual in her characterization.
In this advertisement a beautiful, young woman, a Ghanaian cacao farmer of the Kuapa Kokoo cooperative and a co-owner of Divine Chocolate—the company that published this advertisement—holds up a piece of chocolate to her mouth. She is fashionably clad is a strapless wrap-dress. She stares directly into the camera as she holds her other hand on her hip.
The first indicator that this woman is being sexualized is her apparel and her posture. The farmer is wearing a revealing wrap-dress that highlights her cleavage. Her pose is sassy and sultry, with one hand on her hip. The placement of the chocolate draws the viewer’s eyes to her lips. It is the caption of this advertisement, however, that is the most overt indicator that this woman is being sexualized. It reads: “Just developed an appetite for fighting global poverty?” However, it is not the chocolate that is feature front and center in the advertisement: it is the woman. This caption suggests an appetite of a purely erotic and sexual nature rather than one of taste.
However, unlike the M&M’s advertisement this ad does much more than, simply, sexualize the woman it portrays. In her article, “Cosmopolitan cocoa farmers: refashioning Africa in Divine Chocolate advertisements,” Kristy Leissle nearly celebrates this advertisement. She states that the “images provide a fresh visual reframing of the exchanges of goods and capital between Africa and Europe” (Leissle 121). She is correct in her assertions. For hundreds of years Africa has been at the mercy of Europe’s stereotypes. During colonial times, Africa was portrayed as the “uncivilized Other” contrasted with its own “civilized,” colonial self (Leissle 125). Post-colonially, Africa has been depicted as either one or the other of a set of contrasting binaries without room for hybridity: either the continent is primitive or it is civilized, traditional or modern, underdeveloped and developed (Leissle 122).
The fashion and youth of the advertisement mark it as transcendental to the restricting dichotomies given to Africa. The woman in the advertisement is wearing Dutch wax cloth print cloth, a cloth of hybridity drawing influence from the native styles of Indonesia and Africa as well as technological innovation from the Netherlands. Her garment is truly global. Her jewelry also marks her as someone with financial independence who can afford to have such luxury items about her person. “The social status and mobility suggested by [her] cosmopolitan fashions reflect a close affiliation with the privileges of modernity and development narratives” (Leissle 129). The narratives of modernity and development are anchored against the contextualizing backdrop of the advertisement which shows the rural agricultural settings where these developments are occurring. This contextualization of the development illustrated in the ad is a direct contrast to the binaries that have dominated the portrayal of Africa for the past half-century.
While this Divine Chocolate advertisement does a lot in terms of dispelling stereotypes that have lingered over Africa for decades since colonialisms ebb in the continent, it does not do enough to represent women as for-runners in globalization and development. Rather the advertisement still portrayed the woman in a sexual light. With this in mind, this advertisement was created.
This newly-created advertisement features Comfort Kumeah, a Ghanaian cacao farmer and co-owner of Divine Chocolates. She is named in the advertisement, putting an identity and a title, farmer and co-owner, to her face; and thus, making her message more powerful and accessible. She is not portrayed in a sexual nature as the other cacao farmer was. Her clothing is modest and her stance is not suggestive or alluring, but powerful. The caption, “We produce the best of the best cocoa beans,” does not seek to sexualize the woman who is front and center in the advertisement, but emphasize the quality of the product that she has grown. This new advertisement shows, both, the cacao beans and the finished, packaged cacao products, the continuity between the raw agricultural product that Comfort cultivates and the finished product that she had a stake in making, makes the message more powerful than showing a small piece of unwrapped chocolate. Ultimately, this advertisement is an improvement on the sexualized nature of the Divine Chocolate advertisement; Comfort is portrayed as a strong woman without the need to draw her strength from sexual appeal.
Women are constantly sexualized in chocolate advertisements. From the extreme instances such as the M&M’s advertisement to less severe instances such as the Divine Chocolate advertisement, women are illustrated as sexy and sultry and alluring for their physical desirability. This occurs because of one simple fact: sex sells. Each advertising campaign that objectifies women normalizes and reinforces the “dominant ideologies” that classify women as sexual beings (Robertson 53). Even advertisements that seek to dispel other stereotypes that are common in advertising fail to dispel that about the sexual nature of women, so pervasive is the model of the hyper-sexualized woman. This failing shows that the “dominant ideologies” with regards to women are still sexual and objectifying in their nature (53). And, until society, as a whole, changes its mindset about women, advertisers will continue to sexualize and objectify women.
Johnson, Caitlin. “Cutting Through Advertising Clutter.” CBSNews. CBS Interactive, 17 Sept. 2006. Web. 10 Apr. 2014. <http://www.cbsnews.com/news/cutting-through- advertising-clutter/>.
Leissle, Kristy. “Cosmopolitan Cocoa Farmers: Refashioning Africa in Divine Chocolate Advertisements.” Journal of African Cultural Studies 24.2 (2012): 121-39. Print.
Robertson, Emma. Chocolate, Women and Empire: A Social and Cultural History. Manchester, England: Manchester UP, 2009. Print.