A Woman’s Worth? The Needless Exploitation of Women in Chocolate Ads

A significant theme permeating chocolate advertising, along with topics like race, class, and the overall physical desirability of women, is female sexuality. For decades, companies have continued to use oppressive depictions of women in ads, representing them as shallow and painting them as, “becoming irrational, narcissistic, or excessively aroused due to chocolate” (Martin). It’s unfortunate that advertising tends toward these assumptions of how women want to be – sexy, attractive, well-off – and has not yet evolved to appeal to other universally attractive qualities, like basking in the fulfillment of a personal or professional success.

This ad was a product of Godiva’s 2009 advertising campaign, ‘The Golden Moment.’ An attractive woman leans on a bed in a ‘little black dress’ or sexy negligee, the curvaceous neckline reminiscent of the curves of a woman’s body. Her hair is tousled, an allusion to the foreplay she may have just experienced. Her lips are slightly parted in a seductive expression as she gazes longingly at the chocolate in her hand, as if it was her lover. All of these qualities make no secret of Godiva’s message: the feeling a woman receives after indulging in Godiva chocolate is as amazing as the feeling of indulging in a sexual encounter. Godiva attempts to sell us the idea that the special moment when that luscious piece of chocolate hits one’s tongue – the “golden moment” – is as deliciously satisfying as the moment of orgasm. This effort at appealing to raw, intimate emotion and female sexuality is an attempt to convince its mostly female consumer base, in the midst of an economic downturn, to put aside practicality; that Godiva chocolate is, “still worth buying during tough times” (Elliott), an indulgence on par with sexual passion.

Godiva’s name was based upon the legend of Lady Godiva, who was married to the powerful Leofric around 1050 A.D. (BBC). She is described as having, “pleaded with her husband to relieve the heavy burden of taxes he imposed on the citizens of Coventry” (BBC), and that her husband had been willing to grant her request upon fulfillment of his own request: that she ride naked through town, which she did as a selfless act for her community. Godiva’s website references this legend, albeit buried under many sub-menus, describing Lady Godiva as a selfless, kind, brave woman. They even launched the ‘Lady Godiva Program’ to formally recognize, “inspirational woman around the world” (Godiva). Why then, we must wonder, do their advertising strategies not fall in line with the celebration of these deeper and more meaningful inner qualities of women (or, gender aside, people), rather than reinforcing tired, superficial qualities like physical attractiveness and sex appeal?

Response ad to Godiva: celebrating who women are, rather than what they look like.
Response ad to Godiva: celebrating who women are, rather than what they look like.

It is possible to create an ad that targets the same customer base while focusing on what women do instead of how they look, thereby contributing to an overall change in how our society values women. One attempt depicts a doctor walking out of her office for the day, the setting made clear by the blurred figures in the background of patients and medical personnel. She is wearing a white coat and a stethoscope around her neck, and is smiling and waving goodbye to someone as she makes her way down the front steps. Her face wears an expression of happy confidence. Tucked under her arm is a box of Godiva chocolates; we wonder if she was rewarded with this special gift by a patient, or if she is planning to treat herself at the end of a productive day. The ad is successful by targeting the high-brow, prosperous female consumer base who enjoys indulging in the finer things in life, while highlighting the worth of women as it extends beyond the physical. Rather than equating feminine desire for chocolate with unbridled emotion, the ad conjures a more pragmatic view of enjoying chocolate, allowing some emotion to shine through in the doctor’s bright smile.

Proponents of ‘critical race theory’ believe that in order to, “adequately address the problematic representations and lack of diversity in advertising, we must educate ourselves about racism and create equal opportunity for anti-race themes to become commonplace” (Martin). Likewise, it is important that advertising professionals embrace fresh ideas and begin avoiding the typical depictions of women that have dominated the advertising landscape. Normalizing a concentration on the amazing things women do, as opposed to the current concentration on how sexy, aroused, or obedient women “should be” – or getting away from gender entirely as an advertising theme – would be a sizable step in the right direction toward gender equality.

Beyond Godiva: a 2008 ad for Whittaker’s Dark Chocolate using female sexuality to appeal to consumers (click the YouTube logo on the bottom right of the image below to click through to YouTube and view the video):

* Footnote for Maggie: reminder that we discussed my including a link to the first ad in lieu of embedding the ad, due to the NYT copyright. You may have to click through an ad after clicking on the link, in order to view the image.

Works Cited:

aas119e43. “Respondent Chocolate Ad.” 10 Apr 2015. Image.

BBC Ancient History. “An Anglo-Saxon Tale: Lady Godiva.” 2014. Bbc.co.uk. Web. 9 Apr 2015. http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/ancient/anglo_saxons/godiva_01.shtml

Elliott, Stuart. “Godiva Rides in a New Direction.” New York Times. 16 Nov 2009. Web. 8 Apr 2015. http://www.nytimes.com/2009/11/16/business/media/16adnewsletter1.html?pagewanted=all

Godiva. “The GODIVA Name.” http://www.Godiva.com. Web. 9 Apr 2015. http://www.godiva.com/our-story-the-godiva-name/OurStoryArticle1.html

Martin, Carla. “AAAS E-119 Lecture 9: Race, Ethnicity, Gender, and Class in Chocolate Advertisements.” Google Slides, AAAS E-119 iSite. 20 Jun 2011. Web. 9 Apr 2015.

Unknown. “A New Ad for Godiva.” New York Times. 16 Nov 2009. Image. Web. 9 Apr 2015. http://www.nytimes.com/imagepages/2009/11/16/business/energy-environment/16adnews1.html

Unknown. “Whittaker’s Dark Chocolate Ad 2008.” Online video clip. YouTube. YouTube, 15 Nov 2008. Web. 9 Apr 2015. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vlbnoAVNMPk

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One thought on “A Woman’s Worth? The Needless Exploitation of Women in Chocolate Ads

  1. PLEASE NOTE: If you cannot see the created ad featuring the doctor, please try viewing in another browser. There is an apparent bug or WordPress display issue happening here.

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