Sex Sells: Sex and the Objectification of Women in Chocolate Advertisements

Chocolate advertisements are prime examples of intersectionality, which refers to “the relationships among multiple dimensions and modalities of social relations and subject formations” (McCall, 2005). They publically display various stereotypes of race, gender, and class and shed light on which groups chocolate companies target as consumers. Using a 2015 commercial for Dove cranberries dipped in dark chocolate, I focus on the portrayal of gender and sexuality, though race and class are thematized in the ad as well. We created an original ad for Dove chocolate that depicts a father-son relationship in an effort to subvert the existing ad’s focus on a woman’s sensual enjoyment of chocolate and its depiction of chocolate as a substitution for sex.

The 2015 Dove ad (above) takes place in a library, and it portrays a man participating in a scavenger hunt set up by a woman, who appears to be the librarian. The woman holds a bag of the Dove chocolate cranberries and gazes seductively as she watches the man solve her puzzle. He finds that his ultimate destination is a well-hidden table, where the woman sits alone, eating the chocolate and ready to share it with him. The language used in the clues (“mystery,” “take the leap,” “free your mind,” “live your fantasies,” “heating up”) and tagline (“choose a pleasure less ordinary”) is loaded with sexual innuendo. The clues prime the viewers to expect that the woman is going to reward the man with sex once he finds her, but it turns out that she wants him to eat Dove chocolate with her. This set-up combined with the tagline make it clear that Dove is promoting its product as an equally pleasurable alternative to sex. The imagery used reinforces this idea. There are consecutive close-up shots of the woman’s mouth and the man’s face, suggesting a carnal desire between the two. The shadowy and dim lighting used throughout further contributes to this romantic ambiance.

This message is common in Dove advertisements. One still image ad (above) from 2008 for Dove pure silk bars features a woman’s face in the throes of ecstasy (eyes closed, faint smile) with her neck and shoulders covered in chocolate-colored silk. The tagline is, “Now it can last longer than you can resist. Unwrap. Indulge. Repeat,” suggesting that eating this three-portion chocolate bar is a preferable alternative to sex, since it can be savored for longer. Using this as a marketing tool dates back to the 1930s, when women were told in Aero advertisements, “When you resist the urge to eat chocolate you are ignoring one of Nature’s most serious warnings” (Robertson, 35). Eating chocolate was seen as a socially acceptable and safe way to satiate women’s heterosexual desires. Many years later, the core of chocolate companies’ approach to gaining female consumers has remained virtually unchanged.
 
Even though both a man and a woman are featured in the 2015 ad, the manner in which they are depicted differs. The woman is the chief seductress, who has orchestrated the whole thing, while the man is innocently reading a newspaper when he gets caught up in her scheme. The man gives wide-eyed looks, while the woman has a knowing and mischievous look in her eyes. There are multiple close-ups of the woman’s face as she seductively pops a chocolate covered cranberry into her mouth and chews it, closing her eyes in ecstasy. In the last second of the ad, a long shot of the man and woman at the table shows him bringing a chocolate to his mouth and smiling sweetly, but the ad cuts out before we see him eat it and a close-up of his consumption is never shown. The woman holds the bag of chocolates throughout the ad, and they appear to be her possession, while she is the man’s possession. Even though she created the puzzle, the ad shows her as if she were an object to be caught by the man.
 
Throughout the history of cinema, women have been depicted as passive objects to be looked at, while males have been depicted as active bearers of look, a concept that Laura Mulvey termed “the male gaze” (Mulvey, 203). The 2015 Dove ad is no exception; the woman is the man’s prize for successfully following the clues and locating her. It is as if the woman is not only being pursued by the man, but that she consciously set herself up as a prize for the man to attain. She takes pleasure in performing the gender role that the “male gaze” has created for females. In this way, the ad utilizes women’s internalization of their roles as sexualized objects to appeal to female consumers.

Dove Scavenger Hunt Ad

In the ad that we created in response (above), we removed all sexual undertones. We did not market chocolate as a component of heterosexual romance, but instead as a way to “Make every day extraordinary” regardless of the context of consumption. We chose to depict a father and son in our ad to depart from the pervasive portrayal of females as chocolate obsessed and deriving an orgasmic pleasure from eating it. To parallel the real Dove ad, we placed the father and son in a scavenger hunt scenario, but instead of using language full of sexual references to sell the product, our clues (“Down to earth delicious,” “Stop and smell the roses,” and “Fun under the sun”) appeal to happiness, naturally tasty food, and enjoying life. In an effort to stay away from the objectification of our ad subjects, we chose not to show the father or son eating the chocolate. In all likelihood, our ad is not edgy or sexy enough to capture the attention of real world consumers and entice them to buy our product. It appears that profitable ads and ads abstaining from the exploitation of gender, race, and class stereotypes are often mutually exclusive.
 
Works Cited:

DOVE Chocolate. “DOVE® Fruit Scavenger Hunt (30 sec spot).” Online video clip. YouTube. YouTube, 26 Jan. 2015. Web. 6 April 2015. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Svks7H3eB3Y

Dove pure silk bar 2008 advertising image. Web. 6 April 2015. http://thesocietypages.org/socimages/files/2010/11/dove.jpg

McCall, Leslie. “The Complexity of Intersectionality.” Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society. 30.3 (2005): 1771-1800. Print.

Mulvey, Laura. “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema.” Narrative, Apparatus, Ideology. Ed. Philip Rosen. New York: Columbia University Press, 1986. 198-209. Print.

Robertson, Emma. Chocolate, women and empire: A social and cultural history. Manchester and New York: Manchester University Press, 2009. Print

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