Accessible Decadence and the Union of Classes

“Wouldn’t it be lovely?” Eliza Doolittle asked, to have “lots of chocolate” to eat, and to have “lots of coal making lots of heat?” As her dreamy inquiry continues, other flower girls and market men join in song with her. “All [they] want,” is chocolate too. The message of this song provides an interesting backdrop to a critique of chocolate advertising today–it suggests that chocolate is neither “poor man’s food,” nor “rich man’s food,” but “everyman’s food.”

With that tune in mind, it is interesting to note that few if any chocolate advertisements actually portray chocolate as an “everyman” food. Instead of painting it as a product that unites classes or diminishes class boundaries, chocolate is portrayed to be socially divisive. One Godiva Chocolatier commercial illustrates this point by setting to romantic music the exchange of chocolate between disarmingly attractive men and women in a well-manicured and likely exclusive location. A careful study of this advertisement, especially when compared to an alternative of advertisement, reveals why exclusivity and elevation sells: no one wants to be the “everyman.”

Consider the following Godiva advertisement:

Godiva’s features three couples in a gorgeous outdoor location. The sultry and sophisticated women are dressed in evening gowns and are shown alone. For each woman, a man donning a suit with their tieless dress shirt slightly unbuttoned approaches with a box of chocolate. Their interaction seems to occur in slow motion. Each woman accepts the chocolate, removes the lid, and wordlessly expresses her pleasure. They then eat the chocolate, and continue to non-verbally communicate their excitement. The commercial climaxes when the women indicate that they want the men to follow them, likely to engage in sexual activities. Just as the last couple disappears, the words “Simply Irresistible” appear in thin, gold script.

This commercial appeals to men and women who dream of beauty, romance and wealth. The characters are attractive, romantically fulfilled and can afford to spend time in gorgeous locations. What is common to each couple is the gold Godiva box. It is when the box appears that the women are most interested, when the box is opened that the women are most pleased, and when the chocolate is eaten by the women that they are most inclined to engage in sexual activity. Truly, chocolate elevated, intensified, and propelled the characters’ romances. Thus, this type of advertisement works because it promises—albeit falsely—that chocolate can create for the viewer what is present in the lives of the men and women in the commercial. Emma Robertson’s commentary on the psychology of advertising is insightful. “Such romanticized narratives of chocolate may be pleasurable to those lucky enough to consume them…” (Robertson) While many messages about women and chocolate are put forth, for the purposes of this critique, the assumed wealth of the characters in the commercial is most relevant.

Godiva does not present chocolate as an accessible good. It is a decadent gift and is shared intimately by uncommonly beautiful people. In no way is chocolate seen as a treat anyone could have any time they wanted. The subliminal message then, is this: chocolate is an “elite” food or is a food that will bring on elite-ness. As a result, this commercial appeals to the “everyman” without validating the “everyman.” It is appeals to the “everyman” because it provides a way in which the “everyman” can be escaped.

It should be noted that the assertion “no one wants to the ‘everyman’” in no way suggests that everyone dreams of extravagance and standing out. What is implied however, is the idea that when making purchases, people are generally more inclined to buy goods and services that improve or maintain their circumstances. Chocolate advertisements are no exception.

Contrast now, Godiva’s “Simply Irresistible” commercial with the following advertisement.

Yours, Mine and Ours

This advertisement is more true to reality. Here, chocolate is an “everyman’s food” as indicated by the “Yours, Mine and Ours” written in slim gold lettering. The variety of people and their associated circumstances displayed demonstrates the universality and accessibility of chocolate. It is not just for the upper class. The hypothetical advertisement specifically suggests that “Godiva” is for children, football players, military men, independent women, and people of every race.

It is noted in the International Journal of Business Management that, “the advertisers goal…involves the study of consumer’s behavior: the processes and activities of people who purchase and use goods and services to satisfy particular needs and wants (Kazemim). This theory sheds light on the ineffectiveness of an advertisement such as the one above. “Yours, Mine and Ours” lacks comparative appeal because it does not respond to the needs and wants of consumers who are impressed by or subconsciously wish for increased beauty, love, and vigor. By associating chocolate with unexciting, unattractive, or even different people, it also becomes unexciting, unattractive and different, and is in this way, cheapened. No one wants to buy a treat that is ordinary. They want chocolate that supposedly increases beauty, inspires happiness, and is the impetus for sexual love.

A comparison between the advertisements provided produces three conclusions. First, advertisers use a type of persuasive optimism to make consumers believe that chocolate consumption can change lives. Second, the role and relationship of chocolate in the media is not comparable to the role and relationship of chocolate in society. Third, advertisements that contradict the false optimism regularly used in chocolate commercials are not likely to be successful. Together, these conclusions suggest that although decadence is accessible, and classes can be united, chocolate advertising will likely always reflect what people want, rather than what they have.

Works Cited

Kazemim Fazlollah (2010). The Role of Media on Consumer Brand Choice, A Case Study of Chocolate Industry. International Journal of Business Management.

Robertson, Emma (2009). Chocolate, Empire and Women: A Social and Cultural History.

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