SEX! Chocolate and Gendered Marketing

Today, chocolate is often considered as a gendered and sexed product, marketed to women, lovers, and those in the throws of anything related to the realm of the touchy-feely. Chocolates are sold in heart shaped boxed, shot in slow motion, and more often than not, specifically and overtly linked to women: a product for women to indulge in, be soothed by, or forget the world through.

This Dove ad speaks to all of the above. Note how it employs the royal “we” in attempts to describe the universal female experience and connect it with the cultural assumption that all women indulge in chocolate as a form of escape.

However, this has not always been the case. In the past, chocolate was the drink of rulers, the sustenance of soldiers, and a foodsource of the elites. Throughout history, chocolate has been marketed to target different genders, using different tactics.

Starting in Meso-America, chocolate was seen as a man’s drink. For the Aztecs, chocolate beverages were reserved only for the male rulers. Aztec ruler Montezuma II was famous for drinking 50 goblets of chocolate a day, as a show of power and opulence (McKay and McKay). Similarly, he decreed that only men could share in his royal beverage, maintaining the one caveat that they had formerly fought for him as soldiers (McKay and McKay). This connection of the military and chocolate continued into the American Revolutionary War. At this time, hot chocolate was considered a health drink that could expedite recoveries and energized tired soldiers (Synan). Thus, chocolate was given to the soldiers as part of their rations, and on the continental side, was allocated to the men based on their ranks. Colonels and chaplains received 4 lbs. of chocolate a month. Majors and captains received 3 lbs. Lieutenants received 2 lbs., and so on. Thus, chocolate once again was seen as a symbol of status amongst this male dominated sphere.

Moving into WWII, chocolate was treated as an energy food for soldiers and strictly modified to fit that end. The chocolate rations given to the men fighting in WWII were “specifically ordered [to] not be too appetizing, so soldiers wouldn’t eat them too quickly” (Burger). As one platoon leaders noted, military chocolate bars were, “bit, thick things, and they weren’t any good. I tried ‘em, but I had to be awful hungry after I tried them once” (Burger). These bars were designed by Hershey’s to have a higher nutritional value and melting point than those of consumer chocolate, with the explicit military instructions to, “make [them] taste about like a boiled potato,” so soldiers wouldn’t eat them all at once (Burger).

This war time propaganda poster presents chocolate as one of the keys to American success. Chocolate is marketed as a manly food, and is given an active role in helping win the war. As the slogan goes, “Chocolate is a fighting food!”
This war time propaganda poster presents chocolate as one of the keys to American success. Chocolate is marketed as a manly food, and is given an active role in helping win the war. As the slogan goes, “Chocolate is a fighting food!”

At the same, chocolate entering Europe during the Enlightenment Era was considered a luxury good. It was the drink of the elites and affordable only to the moneyed. Thus, for many, chocolate was associated with luxury and indulgence. As Europe moved into the Industrial Revolution, these descriptors were seen as incompatible with acceptable masculinities of the working-class man (Anderson). Thus, chocolate was relegated to the world of the woman, the “weaker” more “emotional” sex. From this point on, chocolate for the masses was marketed as something sexual and sensuous. In the early 20th Century, chocolate ads commonly portrayed women smiling coyly while offering chocolate, presumably to a male viewer, with slogans like, “A visit to Pleasure Island is best when made by a man and a maid, and together they enjoy the plunder from this wonderful chest of chocolates” (Anderson).

These sexual innuendos took a turn for the pseudo-feminist in the 1960’s, an era of more sexual and gendered transgression. Haber argues that this is where the image of the “chocolate crazed” woman came from (Anderson). Chocolate companies began marketing chocolate as a substitute for men. As long as women had chocolate, they no longer needed men, sex, or any of the complications that came with the two. At the same time, companies began marketing chocolate to men as the key to win a woman’s sexuality (Anderson). And thus, the cultural narrative was formed. For women, chocolate was the key to their sexual independence, and for me, it was their key into women’s pants.

This Axe ad employs all of these gendered marketing tactics. It presents the narrative that chocolate turns women in sex crazed animals, and that all men have to do is offer them chocolate to gain their sexualized attention. But oddly enough, the ad is selling neither sex nor chocolate, but deodorant instead.

And while this message has persisted into today’s lexicon, it is important to note that this gendered marketing concept was not always the case, specifically in the male dominated spheres of war and military.

Work Cited

Anderson, L.V. “What’s Up with the Stereotype That Women Love Chocolate?” Cuckoo for Cocoa. Slate, 2014. Web. 13 Mar. 2015.

Burger, Terry W. “Chocolate! The War’s Secret Weapon.” America in WWII Magazine. 310 Publishing, LLC, Feb. 2007. Web. 13 Mar. 2015.

McKay, Brett, and Kate McKay. “The Surprisingly Manly History of Hot Cocoa.” The Art of Manliness. The Art of Manliness, 17 Dec. 2012. Web. 13 Mar. 2015.

Synan, Mariel. “Hot Chocolate for Strength.” A&E Television Networks, 08 Nov. 2013. Web. 12 Mar. 2015.


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