It may be shocking, albeit not too surprising, to turn the page of a magazine to come across the pseudo-dismembered image of a man’s torso in an advertisement for a chocolate bar. Problematic sexual and racial elements are indeed part of a larger historical trend of black bodies used in advertising. In these two ads for Dove Chocolate, the latter having been created in direct objection to the first, we can explore what these two male bodies might mean.
In the original ad, a black man’s muscular stomach is the focus of the image. The tagline “Six Pack that melts a girl’s heart,” introduces a verbal wordplay comparing the female desire for this man’s abdominal muscles to the similarly shaped six-portioned Dove chocolate bar. The man in this image is objectified, his defining or humanizing features, and thus identity, cropped away. His body is sexualized in its direct comparison to chocolate.
There is a long history of black bodies being associated with chocolate. In the 1940’s, Rowntree advertising for their cocoa included numerous black child characters: “Honeybunch” and “Little Coco,” who were caricatured versions of African Americans (Robertson, 36). Additionally, they even created “‘Another Cocoa Nib’, a black boy in a straw hat and dungarees carrying an over-sized cocoa pod” (39). Pictured below is an example of Rowntree’s Honeybunch character. This advertisement isn’t sexualizing, but it is objectifying. Rowntree portrays black children as the givers and producers of cocoa to white families, and they undeniably play with the correlation of chocolate and brown skin color. As Robertson states, “the use of black people in advertising has a long history…the use of such figures [constructs] chocolate as an exotic commodity” (36).
Now, the man in the image gives women chocolate by becoming it. The sexualization of his body and the ad’s text connote certain assumptions about gendered female desire. According to Dove, women want black men, sexually, in the same way they want the indulgence of chocolate. Even the overhead lighting of the advertisement suggests the image of this brown man melting, as if his body itself were edible. In Cosmopolitan Cocoa Farmers, Kristy Leissle makes a point of discussing representations of actual African chocolate producers in advertisements without pairing them to images white consumers or condescending stereotypes and misconceptions. “Divine Chocolate” ads try to portray black female cocoa farmers as autonomous chocolate producers and consumers (Leissle 2012). Could this be the exception that proves the historical rule of racism in chocolate marketing?
The redone advertisement, portraying an average-bodied white male torso, is meant to be regarded as satire. In this image, the man shows an approving thumbs-up next to the phrase, “Chocolate that I enjoy, just because it’s good.” This image is still objectifying; we do not see this man’s face either. However, there is a dissipation of the sexualization seen in the previous ad. Perhaps this is because this body is not traditionally ideal: there is no dramatic lighting or bodybuilder figure, this man simply looks average. The lack of sexuality despite the minimal change in image theme proves the overt sexualization of the specifically black male body in Dove’s original ad. The new tagline and gesture by the model suggest a sense of autonomy by the ad’s main character. This man enjoys Dove chocolate for himself because of its satisfactory product. No action by an imaginary woman or actor is implied (either on the chocolate or the man), combating the gendered nature of the first image. The focus of the ad is to sell a superior product “because it’s good,” not because it resembles the abdominal muscles of a black man.
The satirical rebranded advertisement is awkward, even humorous. Shouldn’t it be just as awkward to look at as the real Dove advertisement? Both are objectifications of men, but on a broad scale it is much less common to see an average adult white male body sexualized in advertising. Chocolate advertisements have a messy history of racial objectification and sexist tropes, and this Dove ad is no exception. Comparing a black male body to chocolate for the indulgence of women exhibits the problematic racial and gendered elements so often seen in marketing. In the same way Honeybunch gave cocoa to sugar-white children, this faceless man’s body is chocolate for women to eat. When faced with the new ad, a satire and negative of the original, perhaps we can laugh at the absurdity of the entire situation.
Leissle, Kristy. “Cosmopolitan Cocoa Farmers: Refashioning Africa in Divine Chocolate Advertisements.” Journal of African Cultural Studies (2012): n. pag. Web.
Robertson, Emma. Chocolate, Women and Empire: A Social and Cultural History. Manchester: Manchester UP, 2009. Print.
“Six Pack that Melts a Girl’s Heart.” Dove Chocolate, Mars Company. March, 2007.
“Honeybunch” News of the World. February, 1950. Reprinted in: Robertson, Emma. Chocolate, Women and Empire: A Social and Cultural History. 2009. Print.