Selling Chocolate to Ladies and Babies

In the days of the first introduction of chocolate to Europe, only the elite could afford such a luxury. Chocolate was thought of as an aphrodisiac, and considering the conservative times, it was scandalous for women to have it. Times have certainly changed since then, as most advertisements actually target women and children, but the implications of this are complicated, especially in a time where it seems as if advertising is not so concerned for our well-being but rather for sales. One thing seems to remain the same, as chocolate is “a product frequently understood in the western world only in terms of pleasure” (Robertson 13). What is it that makes chocolate so tied to pleasure? One article looks at the biology of chocolate tasting, and it seems that the biology of craving chocolate lies not in the chemical composition of it but the idea of it as a treat, something only for special occasions (Benton 2005). Advertising uses the idea of chocolate as an aphrodisiac and chocolate as something we crave to keep sales up, and as the culture changes, we see advertisements balance these ideas to cater to modern times.

An advertisement from 1828 for Van Houten's chocolate, shown in Chocolate lecture (Martin, Carla).
An advertisement from 1828 for Van Houten’s chocolate, shown in Chocolate lecture (Martin, Carla).

We can see this idea in both old and new advertisements. When we take a look at one of the first chocolate company advertisements (shown above), we see two children: one lifting the other to grab the chocolate. It’s clear that chocolate is something these children are not allowed to have at the moment, out of reach. Playing back into the Benton article, it seems the denial makes the craving for it worse, but why are children depicted here? Perhaps it is because children regularly crave things; they are indulgent, and when they sneak chocolate like in the previous advertisement, we do not hold them quite as accountable because, of course, what do you expect? They’re children. While children are certainly advertised to now, it seems to be under more scrutiny than it once was. From the New York Times, Michael Moss writes:

Yale University professor of psychology and public health, Kelly Brownell, who was an especially vocal proponent of the view that the processed-food industry should be seen as a public health menace: ‘As a culture, we’ve become upset by the tobacco companies advertising to children, but we sit idly by while the food companies do the very same thing. And we could make a claim that the toll taken on the public health by a poor diet rivals that taken by tobacco’.

With women, however, maybe it is the same expectation that drives the advertisements: women are weak-willed and indulgent to craving chocolate, but because they are not children, they are more responsible for their actions. It’s the worst of both worlds in terms of respect. Perhaps, it is the historical implications of chocolate as an aphrodisiac that drives advertisements to center women in their commercials. If you look at this present-day Russell Stover commercial shown below, we exclusively see women telling the camera that men should buy them chocolate, Russell Stover chocolate. If the old theory remains in people’s head, seeing women wanting chocolate, an aphrodisiac, makes men want to buy chocolate because if you give women chocolate, they will love you; they will have sex with you. It is a common marketing technique in a culture where women are generally sexualized, especially in advertising.

Of course, many things have changed since the introduction of chocolate to Europe, but it is the change specifically in our culture that makes the changes in advertisement so salient. Craving chocolate now ties more directly with craving relationships and women and sex instead of the sneaking sweets like the advertisement from long ago shows. Of course, this reflects the change in our culture from a time where the idea of a woman eating chocolate being scandalous to it being the sole purpose of an advertisement. At the end of the day, the advertisements succeed in mirroring what is acceptable in our culture; though, they seem to find women and children the most susceptible targets either way.

Works Cited

Benton, David. “Biology and Psychology of Chocolate Craving.” Coffee, Tea, Chocolate, and the Brain. Boca Raton, FL: CRC, 2004. Print.
Martin, Carla. “Popular Sweet Tooths and Scandal.” Lecture.
Moss, Michael. “The Extraordinary Science of Addictive Junk Food.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 23 Feb. 2013. Web. 17 Mar. 2015.
Robertson, Emma. Chocolate, Women and Empire: A Social and Cultural History. Manchester: Manchester UP, 2009. Print.
Russell Stover. Russell Stover 2011 Valentine’s Day. Web. 17 Mar. 2015. <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b0OuE3fpG24&gt;.
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