Pushing back against stereotypes of race and sexuality as portrayed in various chocolate marketing campaigns proves critical in de-sensitizing the chocolate product from its social construction generated over time either intentionally by producer desire to maximize market penetration or unintentionally by consumer-driven habits. Within the social atmosphere of chocolate creation and consumption, there exists a feedback between preferences of consumers and goods delivered by producers, such that it becomes difficult to exact causality of whether producers drive consumer tastes or whether consumer tastes drive how producers sell their products. However, what is clear through visual evidence in marketing is that chocolate marketers in their effort to increase market share have made explicit their use of both sexuality and race as tools to socially construct and symbolically interact the word ‘chocolate’ with a variety of contexts including the overpowering attraction of women to masculine sexuality and the use of chocolate as a “euphemism for race” (Robertson, 1-7). One can best see this theme through a 2007, still-ad Dove Chocolate campaign, shown below, with the tagline: “Six Pack that melts a girl’s heart. Dove chocolate,” emphasizing themes of both sexuality and race associated with the sale of chocolate. This post will reveal the underlying tensions of sexuality and race in the context of chocolate marketing using this Dove advertisement as evidence and will present a rendition of this ad that pushes back on the themes evident in the original.
In terms of sexuality, Emma Robertson documents historical contexts in which chocolate manufacturers targeted women over time. In the 1930s, chocolate manufacturers targeted mothers who had a duty to give the best food to their children, such that advertisers even launched a “Special Mothers Campaign.” In the 1940s and 1950s, chocolate marketing tilted towards housewives, where the woman had responsibility to provide for her spouse, such that if she didn’t purchase certain brands, like Rowntree Cocoa, she would be viewed as “ignorant.” However, only in the later part of the 20th century did chocolate marketing highlight “courtship rituals” and the romanticization of chocolate. Chocolate manufacturers began to use sexuality of women as a descriptor for their products. For example, campaigns emphasized the “sweetness” of women as advertised in Dairy Box’s marketing efforts, as shown below (Robertson, 26-34). In a different light, Leissle writes how Divine Chocolate used African women, dressed up in classy dresses as saleswomen, as means to lure the cosmopolitan consumer (Lesslie, 121-123). In the Dove advertisement, one sees how the campaign targets women propelled by masculine affinity in particular. The chocolate manufacturer, by displaying an image of a black man’s protruding chest and abs, seeks to lure women into buying the “six pack” more so than the chocolate itself. Consumers are purchasing a socially constructed symbol of sexuality, driven foremost by their craving for the muscular male body that seduces them into purchasing Dove Chocolate. The top-down lighting further emphasizes this, with the man’s abs melting in the light, giving the allure of melting Dove chocolate. The advertisement additionally doesn’t even show the face of the man or the personality of his character. It simply reveals a flexing male in his objectified, stereotypical ‘fit’ body that no woman could resist. In contrast with earlier ads depicting women, aimed at luring housewives and mothers, and later ads tying women to product flavors, this ad aims at attracting women by arbitraging their ‘irrationality’ when it comes to men to buy chocolate. It is on this premise that Dove leverages sexuality to drive sales of its product.
In terms of race, this ad plays on earlier themes suggested by Robertson that use chocolate in association with “blackness.” Roald Dahl in Charlie and Chocolate Factory originally depicted the Oompa Loompas as dark-skinned, only for them to become “rosy white” characters in a later rendition. Rowntree had furthermore emphasized the idea of black men as “entertainers,” another means of selling to white-middle class individuals (Robertson, 1-7). Chocolate’s imperial colonial context clearly played a role in some consumers’ purchasing preferences, as seen by consumers’ blind attraction to the Belgian “chocolate hands.” In this way, historically, various marketing campaigns played on themes associating chocolate with “blackness.” Our Dove ad clearly displays this with the company deciding to use a toned black male, whose bulging abs look like melting pieces of chocolate. There is an allure for a ‘piece’ of his abs just as there is an allure for chocolate pieces. The dark brown color of their ad, even the ad background overwhelms the faint white letters spelling out its tagline. Race plays a vital role here with Dove tying the chocolate product with black masculinity, tempting women to purchase their product.
Our revised ad sought to push back against both these stereotypes of sexuality and race. In terms of sexuality, we show an average, normal white male, who doesn’t possess a “fit” body by any stereotypical measure. Simply observing an image of his body does not elicit a visceral reaction from women to buy chocolate. In fact, it may even serve as a disincentive, since his body doesn’t represent the epitome of masculinity. In terms of race, we choose a white male that bears no color resemblance to the actual chocolate product. There is no lighting effect, nor any melting abs of chocolate pieces. Our advertisement uses direct lighting and no special effects, keeping the intentions simple and direct to the product itself. Our tagline pushes back against Dove’s reading, “Chocolate that I enjoy. just because it’s good.” There is nothing more, just the taste of the chocolate product itself. Lastly, the original Dove ad emphasizes the black male body, relegating the Dove chocolate bar to a small, thumbnail-like image at the bottom of the ad, visible only after the body itself. Our ad makes the Dove chocolate bar clearly visible and pronounced, emphasizing the physical product. In this light, our ad de-sensitizes the chocolate product itself from the social construction furthered by chocolate advertisers, thereby pushing back on chocolate stereotypes and restoring the genuineness of buying chocolate itself.
Kristy Leissle (2012). “Cosmopolitan Cocoa Farmers: Fefashioning Africa in Divine
Chocolate Advertisements,” Journal of African Cultural Studies, 24:2, 121-139.
Mars, Inc., Dove Chocolate (2007). “Six Pack that melts a girl’s heart. Dove chocolate.”
Robertson, Emma. (2009). Chocolate, Women, and Empire: A Social and Cultural History. New York, NY: Manchester University Press.
Rowntree’s. (1957). 13th Dairy Box sheet poster. <http://www.bbc.co.uk/food/0/20171385>.