Sex sells, or at the very least, it dominates many advertisements (print, digital, TV, etc.) nowadays. Marketing products or goods with sex is somewhat of a modern approach to advertising, but chocolate is one of the few products that were highly sought after by women for its reported aphrodisiac properties and other benefits. There are some extreme accounts that dates back as early as the 1700’s where chocolate was being used as love potions and spells in Guatemala. This very long association with chocolate, sex, and women along with the advent of television, media devices, and large print distribution centers perpetuates a defective thought that chocolate, women, and sex are synonymous.
One of the earliest and extreme historical accounts of the relationship between chocolate and sex was in Guatemala in 1705. There was a description of “women who acted ‘disorderly’ […] often included descriptions of women’s illicit sexual activity and practices of sexual witch-craft, where women took advantage of their roles in food preparation to assert power over the men in their lives. Because of its dark color and grainy texture, chocolate provided ideal cover for items associated with sexual witchcraft” (Few, 678). This illustrates that there is historical context of chocolate being associated with sex. Unfortunately, over the years the sexualization of chocolate has become more and more overt. In Catherine Coleman’s “Dessert: Heavenly or Sinful? Consumption, Carnality, and Spirituality in Food Advertising,” Coleman explores the aspects of visual representation in regards to food and sexuality. She mentions that there are many dimensions of the relationship of food and sex which include women being “portrayed with insatiable appetites; these images are used solely metaphorically to imply sexual appetite” or even more extreme, food “being an erotic experience in and of itself” (Coleman, 176). There are many levels to sexual imagery and some are more explicit than others.
One example of an ad that alludes to sexual imagery is from Dove chocolate.
The ad aims to market a Dove Chocolate bar that comes in three individual packets being able to “last longer than you can resist. Unwrap. Indulge. Repeat… Savor them slowly. My moment. My Dove.” There are three images they use to deliver this message – a woman, brown silk, and chocolate. However, what dominates the majority of the ad is the woman and the italicized “Unwrap. Indulge. Repeat.” The brown silk that surrounds the woman represents the chocolate’s silkiness and reaffirms the overall Dove brand. Objectively, the advertisement is trying to illustrate that Dove chocolate is smooth, pleasurable, and now can be enjoyed more than once. The visual images along with the stylized words, “last longer than you can resist”, primes the reader to suggestive thoughts. The woman is objectified because she becomes a sexual object for chocolate. While Dove’s general marketing image is positive and they are well known for their work in body image acceptance and beauty, this ad illustrates that Dove has used objectifying ads to perpetuate the use of harmful stereotypes.
Below is an ad that I have created in response to Dove’s original chocolate ad.
Given that the overall message of the ad is about the chocolate being silky smooth, pleasurable, and can last longer, I changed the primary image to a dove for immediate brand recognition. The dove is holding a silk ribbon to represent the chocolate’s silky smooth texture, and the words have been rearranged to fit where I felt was appropriate. I feel that this is a different visual representation that delivers the same message as the original. However, the argument can be made that I used an animal instead of a woman and therefore made the advertisement asexual or makes it less personable to other consumers. However, I just wished to illustrate that delivering the same information and generating brand recognition is still possible without relying on the sexual objectification of women. Furthermore, in the original Dove ad, the woman is primarily used as decoration and illustrates no functional purpose to advertising the chocolate. Therefore, while my change is purely aesthetic and the objective message is the same, the sexual narrative has been lessened.
This is not to say that I do not believe women should be removed from chocolate advertisements in general because their mere presence implies sexualization (this is a dangerous overgeneralization), but chocolate has a history of being sexualized. It stems from a historical belief of chocolate’s aphrodisiac effects, which presently, is only a fabrication to use women as sexual objects to sell a product. Women can and should still be used in chocolate advertisements but their portrayal should not establish a culture of harmful stereotypes.
Coleman, C. (2008). Dessert: Heavenly or sinful? Consumption, carnality and spirituality in food advertising. European Advances in Consumer Research, 8, 175.
Few, M. (2005). Chocolate, Sex, and Disorderly Women in Late-Seventeenth- and Early-Eighteenth-Century Guatemala. Ethnohistory,52(4), 673-687.