“Advertisers are selling us something else besides consumer goods: they are selling us ourselves”

The evolution of chocolate production changed the way in which chocolate was available and advertised to the public. Historically, chocolate was known as a luxury item, only available to the elite, the rich, or those with connections to the trade. In the late 19th century, chocolate shifted from being provided in liquid form to a solid candy. As competition between chocolate confectioners increased, their outreach to attract customers shifted as well. The earliest known chocolate promotions were posters, sometimes detailed illustrations that took advantage of new advancements in lithography, graphic arts, and commercial advertising (Grivetti, p. 193).

chocolat ideal hot-chocolate

Members of the chocolate history group at the University of California, Davis spent two years searching and finding over 500 chocolate advertisements from 11 countries, during this period. In their synopses of the advertisements, similar themes repeat throughout:

  • Incorporation of children – especially young girls and infants (of both genders) – holding chocolate bars, playing games with chocolate, being mischievous
  • Most adults within the advertisements were women, either a mother or caretaker.
  • The mother-child relationship was highlighted: the mother was giving or receiving chocolate from a child, or having a ‘moment’ (drinking hot chocolate together) with their child
  • Most adults (primarily women) were portrayed as being from a higher socio-economic class
  • The health, energy, joyful benefits of consuming chocolate
  • Incorporating a sense of nationalism or romanticism in chocolate – people were portrayed in their traditional dress or courtship scenes included chocolate (Grivetti, pp. 193-198)

200 years later and the messaging in chocolate advertising is still the same. Again, as the narrative of chocolate – its history – has evolved, so have the connotations around its production, promotion, and purchase. Ellen Moore states it succinctly:

“The examination of chocolate companies’ advertisements allows a glimpse into how different identities – including gender, ethnic, and national – can be constructed through a consumption of chocolate. The stereotypes presented for the consumer through advertisements serve to reinforce cultural notions of ethnically homogenous British and U.S. national identity [while also concealing] the realities of chocolate production in Africa and Central America. The consumption of chocolate is thus almost exclusively associated with whiteness, while production is largely associated with exotic “Others”’ (Rubin, p. 67).

The advertisement below was created for the 2012 Super Bowl. It takes a unique perspective on the ‘other’ as it involves an interaction between people of white/European descent and an anthropomorphic entity – a piece of candy that has been given human characteristics. The traditional, stereotypical tropes around femininity and chocolate, as well as the racial disparity, are all more subtly apparent:

Ms. Brown, is the M&M ‘spokescandy’ highlighted under the tagline “not your average chocolate”.  This was her introduction. Until 2012, the only ‘female spokescandy’ was Miss Green, whose persona is vastly different. Miss Green is characterized as sensual and seductive, from her movements, to her voice, to the promotions in which she is seen. In contrast, Ms. Brown, titled the “Chief Chocolate Officer”, is portrayed as intelligent, well-spoken, and successful. Her appearance differs as well. Ms. Brown wears glasses and comfortable, what would be referred to in the business world as ‘no-nonsense’ heels. Her voice and persona seem to command respect.  The conversation she is having with her girlfriends at the party, before being interrupted, references a meeting with a head of State.

Ms. Brown, M&M Miss Green M&M

However, this promotion still slips into the stereotypical trends prevalent in chocolate advertising and societal gender dysfunctions. Before she is interrupted, the story that Ms. Brown is sharing highlights gender stereotypes around women’s place in business. Ms. Brown is heard saying “Mr. Prime Minister (PM), I’m flattered that you love chocolate, but I’m here strictly in a professional manner.” This infers that the PM was not focused on their business meeting but in making (sexual) advances to Ms. Brown; possibly because she is female or because – as we see a moment later from men at the party – he also assumed that she was ‘naked’.  This is similar to the harassment that women regularly receive in the workplace; further there is an allusion to the sexualization of an anthropomorphic being.

The interruption also implies the childishness of these men. They are snickering because of Ms. Browns supposed nudity. It is an oblique reference to the ‘sinful’ pleasure associated with chocolate, a fascination with the exotic, and the associations of sex already incorporated into chocolate mythology (Robertson, p. 68). However, in a crisp, condescending tone she acknowledges their assumption and corrects them. Then Red, a male M&M arrives, sees Ms. Brown, and removes his ‘clothing’. The ad ends with the song “Sexy and I Know It” playing, Red dancing, and Ms. Brown disgustedly looking on. Though the song is Red’s anthem and he too plays into the immature male persona; the advert and the chocolate promoted, is still a gendered product. While Ms. Brown is portrayed as a ‘modern, business woman’ this, and most advertisements, clearly imply the subjectivity of a female consumer. Women have been recognized as the gate-keepers of chocolate – the primary purchaser for themselves and their families, as well as the primary consumer (Cooper, 2004) so the advertising must strongly appeal to women. It is interesting that in this advert, that role has been fulfilled wholesale – our ‘woman’ is more than a purchaser or consumer, she is chocolate. Ms. Brown has become the ultimate ideal.

Further, this advert alludes to Moore’s earlier presumption that the primary identity of the chocolate consumer is white. Ms. Brown’s friends are white; in the background of the club, all of the attendees are white. Ms. Brown and Red are the only ‘beings of color’ at the event. This is a clear ethnic distinction and it can be assumed that this active construction of an ethnically homogenous chocolate consumer, is partially based within the history of chocolate and its early consumption by rich, white Europeans. Finally, in their appearance, from the figure flattering clothing to their jewelry, it can be assumed that their (her, her girlfriends and background people) socioeconomic background could be higher than middle class. The background music and ‘party atmosphere’ are more upscale and relaxed than the strobe lights and pounding music of a night club.

Sidney Mintz shares that “food choices and eating habits reveal distinctions of age, sex, status, culture, and even occupation” (Mintz, p. 3). These distinctions can be uniquely noted in this advertisement. They can also be turned on their head, as shown below:

This ‘twist’ on the M&M advertisement still acknowledges the atmosphere of friends getting together, but the norms have changed. The immaturity is missing; they are all of an age, enjoying their time together – eating, talking, possibly listening to a story. The friends are all mixed (gender and ethnicity) groups of (what could be) varying socioeconomic backgrounds. The new tagline ‘how do you eat your M&Ms?’ replaces ‘not your average chocolate’ to highlight the communal experience of enjoying M&Ms, instead of focusing on an anthropomorphic piece of candy with feminine characteristics that is possibly nude and unexpectedly intelligent.

The focus is more gender neutral, as no one member of a photo can be immediately sexualized and previous stereotypes of class, race, and national identity within an audience have been set aside. Finally, the song emphasizes the idea of “being friends” and not being “sexy and knowing it”.

References:

Cooper, Glenda. Women and Chocolate: Simply Made for Each Other. New York Times. 13 March 2004. Web. 09 April 2015. < http://www.cacao-chocolate.com/choclove/women.html >

Grivetti, Louise E. and Shapiro, Howard-Yana. Chocolate: History, Culture, and Heritage. Hoboken. 2009. Print.

History timeline. Mars Company Website. History. N.D. Web. 10 April 2015. < http://www.mars.com/global/about-mars/history.aspx >

Mintz, Sidney. Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History. New York. Penguin Press. 1985. Print.

Robertson, Emma. Chocolate, Women, and Empire: A Social and Cultural History. Manchester University Press. 2010. Print.

Rubin, Lawrence C. Food for Thought: Essays on Eating and Culture. McFarland and Company Publishers. 2008. Print.

Multimedia resources:  

BestCodTrolls. M&Ms Super Bowl Commercial 2012 – I’m Sexy and I Know It. Online video clip. YouTube. YouTube, 05 February 2012. Web. 8 April 2015. < https://youtu.be/Pc7BnT5X1tw >

Character photos. Ms. Brown and Miss Green. M&M. N.D. Web. 10 April 2015. < http://www.mms.com/#character >

Mucha, Alphonse. Chocolat Ideal, 1897. Web. 10 April 2015. < http://www.artnet.com/artists/alphonse-mucha/chocolat-ideal-a-fDVy2jZnfv6prLHLQxw8jg2 >

Nyree1luv. Friends: A Chocolate Production. Online video clip. YouTube. YouTube, 10 April 2015. Web. 10 April 2015. < https://youtu.be/voUcekR2kfA >

Vintage 19th century French poster. Chocolat Delespaul-havez. N.D. Web. 10 April 2015 < http://www.museumoutlets.com/vintage-french-posters/chocolat-delespaul-havez-vintage-french-advertising-poster >

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