Playing with Food: Chocolate’s transformation to an agent of entertainment

Chocolate is food. This statement seems fairly trivial at first glance, and the average consumer of chocolate would be hard-pressed to dispute it. Although the manner in which chocolate is ingested – in a cake, bar, beverage, or any number of other preparations – has evolved over its history as a product, that it is and has been a product intended for oral consumption has remained fairly constant. However, in spite of chocolate’s universal recognition as an edible, commercial producers of chocolate have attempted to divert attention from this long-established role, and create a new niche for chocolate to feel. With the rise of health-consciousness in the world population, the debunking of “healthy chocolate” claims, and the increasing demonization of candy in contemporary society, advertising campaigns have begun to recast chocolate as an agent of entertainment rather than an item of food.

The story of Milton Snavely Hershey’s eponymous empire is perhaps best suited to illustrate the arc from food product to entertainment. The eventual success of his quest to mass-produce chocolate candy led to an ability to make all of his confections available to virtually anyone: “Milton would produce huge quantities of a few varieties and price none higher than a nickel… every grocer, druggist, and candy store owner in America could stock Hershey products.” (D’Antonio, 121) The rapid spread of his consumer base necessitated an accompanying marketing push, boasting of the high quality of chocolate available for such a low price. Many of these advertisements focused on the purity of ingredients and nutritional value of the chocolate – at least according to their contemporary understanding of nutrition – leading to advertisements like the one below. (Figure 1)

Figure 1: A vintage advertisement for Hershey’s Chocolate Syrup, boasting of its nutritional value.

This marketing strategy began to lose traction as America entered the 1950s. “Across the population, obesity was a bigger drag on life span than cancer or heart disease,” and mass consumption of candy and other “junk” products was viewed as a likely culprit. (Kawash, 230) As passing off any form of candy as healthful became increasingly futile, the need to find another void for the product to fill became increasingly important. Fortunately for the company, the town of Hershey, Pennsylvania proved that chocolate did not have to be marketed on nutrition, alone. With the enormous boom in chocolate sales, Milton Hershey began developing Derry Church into a model town for his employees. Aside from housing and infrastructure for his factory workers, Hershey provided recreational diversions in the form of a department store, park, and zoo. These forms of recreation were made available at no charge to Hershey employees, and “they served a purpose beyond profit… because [Hershey] saw the town and factory as a single project.” (D’Antonio, 120) While this mentality was originally motivated by maintaining a high quality of life for employees, it has since expanded to the consumer base. As Hersheypark was opened to the public and expanded to include 12 roller coasters and a water park, public entertainment become yet another aspect of the Hershey project. Anthropomorphic Hershey products roam the property (Figure 2), stopping for photos with families and putting on musical shows. These characters are perhaps the most extreme example of the dissociation of chocolate and food; they actually should discourage a potential consumer from eating the product. The smiling face and plush body in the photo below (of the Reese’s cup, naturally) invites hugs. To think about eating such an entity would border on cannibalistic!

Figure 2: Perhaps the epitome of chocolate-based entertainment, a living Reese's cup poses with a Harvard student and friends.
Figure 2: Perhaps the epitome of chocolate-based entertainment, a living Reese’s cup poses with a Harvard student and friends.

The spectacle associated with chocolate has also made its way to the production process. Hershey no longer offers tours of the factory, but a ride through a mockup is available at Hershey’s Chocolate World, near the entrance to the park. Originally, this attraction focused on realism, combining video footage of the actual factory’s inner workings with mechanical facsimiles of conchers, mixers, and winnowers. In recent years, though, a large portion of the narrative explaining cacao sourcing and refinement has been glossed over and replaced by a trio of animatronic cows singing about their milk. Advertisements for Hershey products have further made a spectacle of the production process, as exemplified by this commercial for Hershey’s Kisses. Cacao, milk, and sugar are completely cast aside in favor of surreal industrial processes and the whimsical work song from Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. The fanfare caused by celebrating Kisses is abruptly cut short as one is launched into the real world and deposited in a woman’s mouth. This final shot is the only reference to the Kisses’ edibility, while the rest of the sequence is focused entirely on their animation (in the sense that they are animate, rather than animated). While the bowl of kisses in the final shot is certainly inanimate, there is still a slight touch of monstrosity associated with devouring what had previously shown as an adorable, dancing creature.

As nutritional value has become a decreasingly viable strength in chocolate marketing, a rebranding has taken place to promote the entertainment value of candy while attempting to sweep ingredients under the proverbial rug. Exemplified by the Hershey Company, this phenomenon has progressed to the point of counter-intuition. As the focus on entertainment has steadily increased, chocolate’s edibility has not only been glossed over, but nearly vilified. The result has been a marketing arc from healthy to delicious to adorable. What the ingestion of “cute” says about society is another essay entirely, but for now it is sufficient to recognize that it has allowed chocolate to survive the demonization of candy, and hope that puppies don’t follow that arc in reverse.

Works Cited

  1. D’Antonio, Michael. HERSHEY: Milton S. Hershey’s extraordinary life of wealth, empire, and utopian dreams.New York: Simon & Schuster, 2006.
  2. ChocolateMan. “Hershey Kiss commercial.” Online video clip. YouTube. YouTube, 19 Sept. 2010. Web. 13 Mar. 2015.
  3. “Hershey’s Syrup.” Vintage Fine Art Prints. n.p. n.d. Web. 13 Mar. 2015.
  4. Kawash, Samira. Candy: A century of panic and pleasure. New York: Faber & Faber, 2013.
  5. Smith, Brian. Untitled. 2014. JPG

One thought on “Playing with Food: Chocolate’s transformation to an agent of entertainment

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s