A Case Study in Chocolate Branding: The Hershey Company

The Hershey Company, known popularly as Hershey’s, is one of the largest chocolate-producing companies today. They own many famous brands, including but not limited to, Reese’s, Kit Kat, Hershey’s Kisses, and York Peppermint patties. This multi-billion dollar company is one of the oldest chocolate companies in The United States and its chocolate bars have become iconic for most Americans. Founded in 1894 in rural Pennsylvania by Milton Hershey, the Hershey Company’s popularity has only grown over the course of the last century. And during that time frame, the Hershey Company’s brand has evolved, their marketing practices have changed, and they have shaped and have been shaped by their consumers. The case study of the Hershey Company reflects and provides much insight into trends in the history of chocolate itself, how it became such a commonplace consumer good, and the challenges that consumers of chocolate face because it has been producing chocolate for so long.


The video embedded above gives a very brief overview of Hershey’s evolution as a company. It highlights some of the changes in their marketing practices: how Hershey started mass-producing milk chocolate, how the company marketed their chocolates as “affordable luxuries,” how they created their signature brands, and how in the 1960s, they began to create media campaigns, utilizing a variety of different tactics to target different audiences.

When Milton Hershey created the Hershey Chocolate Company under his Lancaster Caramel Company, he wasn’t making the products that we are accustomed to seeing today. In 1895, the Hershey Chocolate Company was making over one hundred different chocolate products: They came in fanciful shapes like cigars and wafers and were wrapped in colorful packaging. Many of them were portrayed as luxurious, with French sounding names like Petit Bouquets and Le Roi de Chocolate, even though they were affordable for the general public [1].

Hershey’s early chocolate products were very different from the Hershey’s we know today.

However, with industrialization, chocolate products all over started to become mass-produced and even more widespread and accessible—the fact that chocolate could be so easily incorporated into other products made it even more popular. Hershey was able to find a way to mass-produce milk chocolate, perfect his recipe, and in 1900, the first Hershey’s Milk Chocolate Bar was produced [2]. As the video mentions, Hershey’s was now able to market their chocolate as “an affordable luxury,” as milk chocolate was previously only for the wealthy, and to put an emphasis on the quality of their chocolate.

An ad from the 1930s that shows Hershey’s chocolate syrup as a “stepping stone to health.”

Despite the onset of the Great Depression, Hershey’s continued to manufacture new and profitable products: the Mr. Goodbar Candy Bar (1925), Hershey’s Syrup (1926), the Krackel Bar (1938), etc. Despite their success, the Hershey Company did very little advertising in its first few decades. An executive from Hershey’s advertising agency is quoted saying, “The Hershey Company was against doing any kind of large-scale advertising for a long time, and as one of the nation’s original confectioners, they didn’t have to do any.” [3]

It wasn’t until the late 1960s that they began to launch national ad campaigns. Following their previous portrayals of Hershey’s chocolate as beneficial for your health, they launched a television commercial that showed Hershey’s instant powder as a way of getting kids to drink their milk.

The Hershey Company targeted many different audiences with their ad campaigns: children, dancers, and even immigrants? One commercial that they created even portrayed people of various ethnicities enjoying a Hershey’s, the “great American chocolate bar.”

No matter who they were targeting, Hershey’s marketed their chocolate bars as something that would make you happy, a staple of the American diet.

However the Brand Evolution video above also highlights some of the controversy that the Hershey Company has faced due to some of its business decisions. For example, in order to reduce costs, the Hershey Company decided to replace the cocoa butter in some of their products with vegetable oil—this led to many unhappy consumers and reminds us all that chocolate purity is still an issue. And only recently in 2012 has the Hershey Company agreed to switch to fair trade cocoa, ending their child slave labor practices on cacao plantations in West Africa [4]. However, even this transition is predicted to take up to 8 years.

The history of the Hershey Company can serve to teach us all about the history of chocolate. We can observe how chocolate went from being a luxury to a commonplace good, as it became incorporated into more and more products. In that process, it was marketed in a very versatile way, to many groups of people, making chocolate even more popular.


Multimedia Sources

[1] “From The Kiss to a Great American Chocolate Empire: A History of Hershey’s.” FastCompany video, 2:38. Posted by FastCompany. http://www.fastcompany.com/3038479/from-the-kiss-to-a-great-american-chocolate-empire-a-history-of-hersheys. Accessed March 22, 2015.

[2] Hershey’s Early Products. Digital Image. Available from: http://www.hersheyindia.com/lib/imgs/about/slide-img2.jpg. Accessed March 22, 2015.

[3] Hershey’s Syrup Ad. Digital Image. Available from: http://photos-ak.sparkpeople.com/nw/5/0/l50448930.jpg. Accessed March 22, 2015.

[4] “Hershey’s Instant 1960s Cows Ad.” YouTube video, 0:28. Posted by “3zy,” June 9, 2006. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z0JWekEqFdM. Accessed March 22, 2015.

[5] “Hershey’s Candy Bar Commercial.” YouTube video, 0:30. Posted by “Mort Shuman,” July 3, 2006. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=47-blY2vZMY. Accessed March 22, 2015.


[1] (2014, February 7). Looking Back: Hershey’s First Chocolate Products. [Web log comment]. Retrieved from http://blog.hersheyarchives.org/2014/02/07/looking-back-the-first-hershey-chocolate-products/.

[2] The History of the Hershey Company. (n.d.). Retrieved March 22, 2015, from http://www.thehersheycompany.com/about-hershey/our-story/hersheys-history.aspx#

[3] Luclew, John. (2013, June 24). Hollywood gets Hershey’s marketing history mostly right in ‘Mad Men’ finale. The Patriot News. Retrieved from http://www.pennlive.com/midstate/index.ssf/2013/06/hollywood_gets_hersheys_market.html.

[4] Antoniades, Andri. (2012, October 6). Hershey Slave Labor Will End With Switch to Fair Trade Cocoa. takepart. Retrieved from http://www.takepart.com/article/2012/10/06/hershey-vows-stop-using-child-slave-labor-eight-more-years.


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