Advertising in the chocolate industry is laden with sexist, ageist, racist, and classist imagery and slogans. I’d venture to say that the majority of chocolate advertisements tell me that chocolate is a seductive and decadent treat that makes me lose myself and is to be consumed in an overtly sexual way. Ferrero, which is one of the world’s Big Five chocolate companies (Allen), has long conveyed to consumers through advertising that its chocolate is a regal treat, that enjoying their product allows you bask in the spoils of the rich for a low entry price. Ferrero’s marketing tactic blatantly employs classism in order to maintain their position in the Big Five, capitalizing on chocolate’s actual chronicle of greed, colonialism, and slavery—and, yet, we buy it.
In 2011, Ferrero unleashed their “Golden Christmas” campaign. This campaign basically added images of Christmas trees and holiday lights to their usual setting of a swanky Ambassadors’ reception complete with tuxedos, butlers, and pretty ladies opening their mouths wide for a tasty “European specialty,” all under the guise of sharing in something wonderful. Let’s take a moment to appreciate this advertisement:
A sleek sedan drives through iron gates as opera music plays. (Prepare to be whisked away to a mansion you’ll never live in!) The vehicle that presumably most people can’t afford passes several rows of carefully sculpted landscaping adorned with white Christmas lights on a lawn that most people will never personally enjoy. The driver is a man in a tuxedo and the passenger and narrator is a thin woman dressed in a gown. They pull up to an outdoor party where others are dressed similarly. Amidst the fine guests, we receive a peek at a Christmas tree. (Just a peek—because, remember, our focus is the chocolate, not the holiday intended to celebrate love and the birth of the Christian God’s son.) As the camera pans the setting, a servant descends a flight of steps lined with a red carpet. He is holding a silver platter with neatly stacked Ferrero Rocher chocolates, enclosed in their trademark gold-colored wrappers. Before the woman places a chocolate in her mouth, she closes her eyes and says, “Mmmmm.” She becomes so lost in this delectable nugget that a male narrator has to jump in. He lets us in on the secret: that chocolate is “premium,” in fact, it is actually “the finest chocolate” and “the most sophisticated of the confections arts.”
Have you been carried off to a party where you wear your finest threads, roll up in your waxed whip, and are served by a guy in white gloves while a suave Ambassador winks at you? Does the cooing of a pretty lady turn you on? Are you a woman yearning to identify yourself with this image of refinery? (Robertson) Do you feel like getting your hands on the bargain store chocolate wrapped in gold so that you can share in the delights of the rich and powerful? While the ridiculousness of Ferrero’s Ambassadors’ reception theme came under fire in Europe (Crowther), the fact remains that this plays on the real narrative of chocolate and sugar, and consumers consumed it. We could not enjoy the cheap thrill of a sweet bite without first enduring the insatiable European hunger for market dominance and forced labor. The reality of cacao and sugar plantations as drivers of the slave trade and the reason for which chocolate remains an inexpensive commodity for consumers is well documented, particularly in this course (Coe; Martin; Mintz). Yet, Ferrero, “the fourth largest confectionery company in the world,” continues to create theses ads that prey on class divides and the idea that we should want the life they’re selling. We should crave something built on the backs of African and Indigenous people, brutalized into submission. We should crave the wealth that this industry created for white men. We should crave the commodity of a ‘finely’ dressed woman. We should want this chocolate gold and the lifestyle rooted in classism, sexism, and racism that it comes with.
But can we separate the history from the commodity? My observations tell me that that is exactly what many people do. How else are we so comfortable eating and celebrating something that is so tainted by the blood of others? I mean, forced labor isn’t still a thing. Or is it? The Big Five have come under fire over the last 20 years for child labor violations, worker abuses, and—the most egregious of matters—slavery—the bulk of which occurs in West Africa, a region that produces around 70% of the world’s chocolate. By 2000, the public’s awareness around present-day slavery had given way to documentaries, news articles, and a push by U.S. Senator Tom Harkin and U.S. Congressman Eliot Engel to enact the Harkin-Engel Protocol. The Protocol hoped to “eliminate the worst forms of child labor and forced labor from all cocoa farms worldwide by July 2005.” (Leissle) It hasn’t been entirely effective, but the Protocol was met with an impetus from consumers and companies that do care to do chocolate better. Examples of such include those listed on the Food Empowerment Project website and Divine Chocolate.
So, I offer my own advertisement for Ferrero to consider using this holiday season.
Pictured in this ad are a family and their neighbors enjoying the chocolates that they’ve helped to produce. We can make this assumption because of the cacao trees in the background. In the spirit of Christmas and magical moments, the cacao trees are adorned with stars and Christmas balls, setting the festive mood. The magic is in the people. They are dressed casually, their body language is comfortable, and they appear to be healthy and happy. They manage to enjoy their holiday party without the pretentious frivolities of the Ambassadors’ reception because what matters most is their time spent together. The imagery boasts an everyday, working family’s reality while the words—the same as in the original Ferrero Rocher advertisement—help to redefine for the audience what premium quality, refinement, and sophistication can mean. This new face of Ferrero Rocher’s quality doesn’t include over-sexualized women, European specialties in their mouths, or servants. It simply celebrates people, hard work, good taste, and community.
Ferrero Rocher and other Big Five chocolates might never be portrayed in this light, but one can hope. We can hope that in time, chocolate heirs and advertisers will begin to recognize their own implication in the perpetuation of classism, slavery, and unjust labor practices. We can hope that they will actually work to eradicate such abuses. Then, perhaps, after they’ve strived to create a more responsible and accountable industry, they will deploy advertising campaigns that don’t rely on trite clichés. In the meantime, it is up to everyday consumers to recognize how terribly large companies and advertisers treat us, and to call them out frequently.
Allen, Lawrence L. Chocolate Fortunes: The Battle for the Hearts, Minds, and Wallets of China’s Consumers. New York: American Management Association, 2010.
Coe, Sophie D. and Coe, Michael D. The True History of Chocolate. Revised [and Updated Ed.]. ed. New York: Thames and Hudson, 2007. Print.
Crowther, John. “You’re spoiling us, Mr. Ambassador! That laughable Ferrero Rocher advert wasn’t a joke at all – it was the Italians’ idea of style and class.” DailyMail.co.uk. Updated 23 April 2011. Online. Accessed 7 April 2015 at http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-1379948/Youre-spoiling-Mr-Ambassador-And-making-chocolates-laughing-stock-That-Ferrero-Rocher-advert-wasnt-joke–Italians-idea-style-class.html.
Leissle, Kristy. “Invisible West Africa: The Politics of Single Origin Chocolate.” Gastronomica: The Journal of Food and Culture, Vol. 13, No. 3. (Fall 2013), pp. 22-31.
Leissle, Kristy. “Cosmopolitan cocoa farmers: refashioning Africa in Divine Chocolate advertisements.” Journal of African Cultural Studies 24 (2) (2012): 121-139.
Martin, Carla D. “Slavery, Abolition, and Forced Labor.” Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food. Harvard Extension School: Cambridge, MA. 3 March. 2015. Class Lecture.
Martin, Carla D. “Lecture 9: Race, ethnicity, gender, and class in chocolate advertisements’” Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food. Harvard Extension School: Cambridge, MA. 1 April. 2015. Class Lecture.
Mintz, Sidney Wilfred. Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History. New York: Penguin, 1986. Print.
“Mission.” Ferrero USA, Inc., n.d. http://www.ferrerousa.com/ferrero-group/mission/ferrero-values.
Robertson, Emma. Chocolate, Women and Empire: A Social and Cultural History. Manchester: Manchester UP, 2009. Print.
“Share your Golden Christmas.” YouTube video. Posted 28 November 2011. Accessed at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JCF5Z-m1c0I.
“The Ambassador’s Party.” YouTube video. Posted 27 May 2007. Accessed at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4P-nZZkQqTc.