Depictions of women in chocolate advertisements have evolved with the times. A comparison of chocolate advertisements from today to chocolate advertisements from the pre-1950s demonstrate that at least some chocolate advertisers have made an effort to reject some aspects of traditional gender roles. However, a closer look at these ads suggests that these more “independent” and “empowered” women are frequently reduced to crazed chocoholics, and thus, they contribute to their own longstanding and troublesome feminine stereotypes of irrationality and instability.
In some sense, one could argue that the way women are portrayed in modern day chocolate advertisements is a step up from those from the chocolate advertisements that dominated the first half of the 1900s.
This 1944 Whitman’s ad is one of many in which chocolate companies marketed their products as gifts for men to bring home to their patiently waiting wives. The apron tied around the woman’s waist in particular highlights her role as a housewife, and she happily embraces her husband, who appears to have returned home to her from war with a box of Whitman’s chocolates. Depictions of well-dressed, white housewives waiting for their husbands joyfully embracing their chocolate-carrying, breadwinning husbands became something of an archetype in chocolate advertising.
This contemporary 3 Musketeers commercial below encapsulates a later-developed trend that Robertson describes in her book Chocolate, Women, and Empire. Now, chocolate advertisers began to present women as “narcissistic consumers” “seduced by the chocolates themselves” while “men literally fade[d] into the background” (Robertson).
While one might even celebrate that they have chosen to depict a more independent and diverse set of women, it is important to note this portrayal of women is equally flawed. They are dressed in serious, professional attire, but it is clear that we as viewers are not meant to take these women seriously. Each goes crazy at the sight of chocolate, hollering suggestive lines at the man carrying the chocolate bar and surrendering all dignity to jump wildly at the bar when it floats into the air. Again, while advertisers may have pushed past some elements of traditional gender roles, advertisements characterizing women as crazed chocoholics are hardly an improvement. Just as women once lost their identity in chocolate advertisements “in devotion to a man,” in these ads, their identities are “subsumed by their consumption habits” (Robertson).
Moreover, such crazed depictions of women contribute to harmful and longstanding stereotypes of women as irrational and unstable. This is exacerbated by their contrast to the men, depicted in these same advertisements as sensible and grounded “reality anchors” (Elliott & Wootton). Take another look at the 3 Musketeers commercial. This is precisely the role that the bewildered man in the advertisement fulfills. Unlike the man, a “carrier of a normal, socially inscribed sense of rationality,” the women, irrational and unstable, are “less securely anchored in everyday reality and conventional forms of reality” (Elliott & Wootton). The prevalence of these gendered characterizations in advertising solidify perceived differences between men and women. In this way, despite their modern rejection of some of the constraints of traditional gender roles, many modern day chocolate advertisements continue an old trend of diminishing and demean women for the sake of humor and sales.
Still, there is something humorous and sellable about the idea of people going crazy for an irresistible chocolate bar, and there is a way to retain it without having to perpetuate negative stereotypes of women. We therefore took the idea behind the 3 Musketeers commercial and remade it into a more female-friendly still advertisement.
We included people of diverse age, race, and gender all in pursuit of the floating chocolate bar. We borrowed the motto (“one for all, and all for one”) from the book after which the candy bar was named to emphasize that this one chocolate bar appeals to all, and all are desperate to get their hands on the chocolate. Thus, we demonstrate it is possible to highlight the “irresistible” appeal of chocolate without degrading women.
While some may argue that there have been some legitimate improvements in contemporary chocolate advertising, the way chocolate companies continue to capitalize on harmful stereotypes of women is far from modern, and there is a true irony in the way chocolate advertisers insidiously demean the very consumers they wish to target. As consumers constantly exposed to these kinds of gendered stereotypes, it is important to view these advertisements with a critical eye so that we can detect and reject these generalizations.
“20 Interesting Vintage Candy Ads.” Neat Designs. NeatDesigns, n.d. Web. 8 Apr. 2015.
3 Musketeers “Catwalk” N.d. Youtube, 1 Sept. 2011. Web. 8 Apr. 2015.
Elliott, J., and A. J. Wootton. “Some Ritual Idioms of Gender in British Television Advertising.” Sociological Review 45.3 (1997): 437-52. Wiley Online Library. Web. 6 Apr. 2015.
Robertson, Emma. Chocolate, Women and Empire: A Social and Cultural History. Manchester: Manchester UP, 2009. Print.