Advertising in Big Chocolate: Perpetuating Stereotypes

Van Heusen

The advertisement for Van Heusen depicted above is one example of a strategy that producers have been employing for years.    It portrays a maternal figure catering to her male counterpart with the tagline ‘Show her it’s a man’s world.”  Although the advertisement does seem rather offensive and approaches have been milder in recent times, it still speaks to long term historical trends surrounding sexism and gender roles in the advertising world.  In her book, “Chocolate, Women, and Empire:  A Social and Cultural History” Emma Robertson describes it as the “fetishization of women as housewives and mothers.”  More specifically, she argues that “adverts have perpetuated western sexist and racist ideologies under a veneer of pleasurable consumption” (Robertson).   One may argue that today’s society is far more gender neutral regarding familial and societal roles and lifestyle, but these historical trends endure nonetheless. The chocolate industry is a paramount example in which producers rely heavily on the exploitation of women in a potentially negative sense.  Big Chocolate frequently utilizes existing stereotypes of women submissiveness and sexuality to enhance the attraction of the product among all of their intended consumers.  However, I feel as if the producers of these should be held to a higher standard and that they can still achieve the same level brand recognition by employing more gender equitable persuasion strategies.

In order to verify this claim, it is important to have a type of case study that helps illuminate some of the issues brought upon by certain chocolate companies.  Below is an ad released by Rolo in 2014.  It is interesting the note how recent this was released as it is evidence that many historical stereotypes of women still pervade advertisements in today’s society.

Here, Rolo depicts a young couple and the woman is catering to an injured man.  As she retrieves him a glass of water and telephone, he eats her last Rolo chocolate – to her utter dismay.  She begins to have visions of explosive level shock and anger; she throws glass of water and phone into the air and they shatter on the ground below.  As she snaps back into reality, she finds herself allowing her male counterpart (superior?) to eat the chocolate in a relatively cool manner. The advertisement is an attempt to portray how people, and women in particular, value and cherish the chocolate.  However, it also, perhaps unintentionally, creates a dichotomy between man and woman by depicting the man’s taking of the final Rolo as careless and nonchalant and the woman’s reaction as explosive and angry.  By appealing to a younger, general population and incorporating historic trends of sexism, Rolo is only perpetuating stereotypes that have timelessly existed within chocolate advertising.  By having her cater to her boyfriend, Rolo is highlighting a stereotype of women submissiveness.  Additionally, her mental dismay but feigned indifference only furthers this notion.  This woman submissiveness to her male counterpart is solidified by Rolo’s tagline at the conclusion of the advert: “Do you love anyone enough to give them your last Rolo?” which emits the idea that a woman should sacrifice for her significant other.  It is also interesting to think about the ubiquitously believed, supposed womanly infatuation with chocolate and the sexualization that is invoked because of it.  Although definitely a secondary theme in this advertisement, it exists nonetheless.  We can see the camera close up to the woman’s tongue and lips as she graciously and seductively consumes her Rolos.   This Rolo ad utilizes both of the long-standing techniques that perpetuate stereotypes of women – sexualization and maternalization.

As aforementioned, women sexualization and fetishization are popular themes employed by chocolate companies in today’s advertising world.  Although somewhat effective, I feel as if it is both unethical and avoidable.    In “Towards a New Paradigm in the Ethics of Women’s Advertising” John Alan Cohan explains that portraying women as sex objects and exploiting various weakness stereotypes as not only unethical, but not advantageous either.  The same level of brand recognition and advertising success can be achieved through the dismantling of such stereotypes, and confronting these age-old ideas of gender roles and women submissiveness.  Below is an adaptation of a Rolo ad created by a few colleagues and myself.

Our AD

Similarly to the video above, our ad shows a modern-age young couple. However, rather than woman catering to man, we depict the couple in a loving embrace at the table, urging one another to consume the lone Rolo that is left on the table.  Here we are trying to push across the idea that Rolo is a chocolate equally desirable to everyone, and it is something that is better shared.  By appealing to a similar audience our ad attempts to confront many of the gender-related stereotypes that are present in many modern-day chocolate advertisements.  It emphasizes an equality of gender and helps to eliminate the idea of male dominance and female submissiveness through the mutual desire and love for the product.  This gender and relationship equity is reinforced by the changing of the tagline.  It now reads “Rolo: Share the Love” in an endeavor to de-emphasize the stereotypes surrounding gender roles and to promote the chocolate as wholesome and ubiquitously desired and enjoyed.

Sure, this is just ONE example of what ONE company can do to ONE ad in an endeavor to more ethically promote their product.  However, as Cohan observes, we are beginning to see an increased prevalence in shifts toward a more gender neutral advertising approach.  By remodeling the scheme of the advertisement as we did above, no intended meaning was lost.  Rolo, in the first and second ad, is still depicted as a crazy desirable chocolate that everyone, men and women alike, wants a piece of.   Through this case study, it is evident that gender neutral advertising approaches can simultaneously put an end to the perpetuation of negative societal stereotypes against women and maintain their success in reaching their intended audience.

Works Cited
Cohan, John A. “Towards a New Paradigm in the Ethics of Women’s Advertising.” Journal of Business Ethics 33.4 (2011): 323-37. JSTOR. Web. 8 Apr. 2015.
Ferrante, Michael, Thomas Purnell, and Konrad Surkont. Rolo: Share the Love. Digital image. N.p., n.d. Web. 8 Apr. 2015.
Robertson, Emma. 2010. Chocolate, Women, and Empire: A Social and Cultural History.
Rolo. Youtube. N.p., n.d. Web. 8 Apr. 2015. <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D2hWUJKLteM&gt;.
Van Heusen. Digital image. Van Heusen, n.d. Web. 8 Apr. 2015.
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