An Old Story: Race, Sex and Dessert

The link between chocolate, sex, and exoticism is not an invention of modern advertisers. Chocolate, coming from remote jungles from across the oceans, always carried an implication of savagery for the European consumers. There were urban legends that chocolate would improve ones sex drive, and that a mother who ate too much chocolate would give birth to a black baby. Along with the myth of the black savage exists the myth of the black savage’s sexual prowess. The word “chocolate”, in certain contexts, refers to sex with a black man or woman.

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In this advertisement, released in 2007 by Dove chocolate, the “six-pack” of a shirtless black man is mutated through Photoshop to resemble a Dove chocolate bar. The slogan reads “Six pack that melts a girl’s heart”. There are several elements to this ad worth exploring, both racial and sexual. One is the conflation of blacks and chocolate, to the point where the person and the product are literally fused into a single being. The man is strong only because the chocolate is strong. It’s also notable that this ad seems to be aimed exclusively at women. It plays into another stereotypical connection between women and chocolate. Women are the biggest consumers of chocolate in America, and therefore most efforts in the marketing of the product are aimed towards them. Here, their supposed fetish for chocolate and the idea of the hypersexual black man are hopelessly mixed up. Chocolate has become a person, food and sex are portrayed as the same thing, and the color of the man’s skin has transformed him into a snack with a supposedly similar color.   Women are attracted to chocolate, would theoretically be attracted to this man, so in the eyes of the advertisers that makes them the same thing. This dehumanizing strategy isn’t exclusive to marketing towards women. You can buy beer bottles shaped like women, or see a car commercial with a Lexus speaking in a woman’s voice. “The product equals sex” is ubiquitous, and probably predates television, magazines, and maybe even the introduction of chocolate into Europe. (Robertson 10)

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To reverse the stereotypes of this image, one needs to throw out the entire concept. The association of black people with chocolate is stereotypical at its core and is past the point of redemption. It’s an ad that has to appeal to women, and so it uses a well-muscled man in the same way that male-targeted ads use bikini models. But in both cases, it’s an unfair and reductive image that equates people with products. So I think the answer to this image is simply to throw out the entire idea that chocolate equals race, or sex, or anything exotic and appealing. Here we have a white man, who is not formed into a muscular chocolate hybrid, sitting and eating a bar of chocolate. Some might feel that this whitewashes the advertisement, but in this particular context I believe that the use of a black man is racist in itself, and is perpetuating a stereotype that is highly old-fashioned and offensive. It plays into the myths of the exoticness of chocolate that should supposedly excite the buyer. Here is a more realistic point of view. Chocolate is meant to be eaten. It isn’t an aphrodisiac, nor will it give you a six-pack. By choosing an ordinary (by white American standards, because that is the target audience for the original advertisement), unappealing person it demystifies the allure that the companies try to build up around chocolate. Would this ad be more effective in the marketplace? Absolutely not, because the companies are cashing in on old assumptions, not creating them: if we still see questionable advertisements like the original Dove poster above it’s because on some uneducated level we still believe in them. And that’s a shame.

Coe, Sophie, and Michael Coe. The True History of Chocolate. London: Thames and Hudson, 2013. Print.

Robertson, Emma. Chocolate, Women and Empire: A Social and Cultural History. Manchester: Manchester UP, 2009. Print.

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