In a technology inundated world, it might not seem strange at first, but once brought to one’s attention, it is striking the sheer number of chocolate advertisements that almost exclusively target women. A simple Google search yields more images of women indulging in chocolate than one would ever need (or indeed want) to see. These commercials promote chocolate by emphasizing the sinful and indulgent tastes it offers–these intense flavors apparently cause women to lose all their inhibitions. So intense is this desire that they cannot resist the temptation it offers. Here, I seek to examine how these associations were created between chocolate, women, and indulgence and how we can begin to counter these stereotypes.
If we examine these themes of gender and indulgence further, we see that they are present in most chocolate advertisements. In order to gain a better understanding of these issues, we closely examine this Magnum commercial:
The woman cannot resist the chocolate and so completely gives in to desire–nothing can stop her from getting to the Magnum truck. The driver of the truck sees her running and opens the truck doors with a knowing smile. She closes her eyes as she takes a bite out of the ice cream bar, utterly overcome by the tastes that have satisfied her deepest desires. In the portrayal of this event, we observe the intense sensuality the consumption of chocolate entails. At the end of the commercial, we find the crux of the appeal–“For pleasure seekers.” The Magnum ice cream bar consumer lives on the edge; this chocolate is not for everyone.
Breaking down this commercial, we see the underlying stereotypes that fuel production of these advertisements. First of all, the woman wears a ruffled dress to emphasize her femininity. Chocolate commercials traditionally target women because of the association our society has manufactured between the two. Why? In the diet-saturated culture we have in the US today, women are far more likely than men to have the goal of losing weight (National Eating Disorders Association). It is easy to sell chocolate to men as they are less likely to be worried about losing weight and therefore have a simpler time deciding whether or not to indulge in chocolate. On the other hand, advertisers want to portray women as having intense desires for chocolate and convince the female audience that this is a natural craving. Additionally, female characters in chocolate commercials are always beautiful women–chocolate companies want the female audience to conclude that they can still look as beautiful as the women in these commercials though they may indulge in chocolate. Therefore, as Emma Robertson writes, “whilst men may be the bearers of chocolate, women are positioned as consumers.” Secondly, there is an idea present that chocolate is sinful–it is for pleasure-seekers. This implies that chocolate is not something to indulge in on a daily basis. This idea is present in other brands of chocolate as well. For example, the Endangered Species brand describes its product as “Simple, smooth, sinful.” The darker side of chocolate contributes to the allure of the product; it is a sort of rebellion against a culture of dieting.
Given these ideas, we have created our own advertisement for chocolate in order to push back against these stereotypes common in chocolate commercials.
There is an attempt here to move away from the stereotype that a disproportionate number of women crave chocolate compared to men. This is entirely a myth, as many studies have discovered that the proportions of men and women consuming chocolate are quite similar and the same follows for the frequency with which they eat chocolate (CNN; Food News International). Cravings for chocolate are not reserved solely for the female sex but are almost a part of human nature. Furthermore, different kinds of women eat chocolate, and there are other reasons women might want to consume chocolate. As demonstrated through this advertisement we have created, chocolate does not need to be a sinful indulgence. Here, it is used to provide energy on an arduous hike. Those pictured here are not the beautiful female models traditionally used in chocolate advertisements but an average family with a mixture of men and women.
We want to view the consumption of chocolate, not as a dark temptation, but as something practical that can be used as a source of energy for both sexes. This is a return to the roots of chocolate. The Maya and Aztecs historically used chocolate as a source of nourishment. In Mayan culture, a warrior would customarily be adorned with cacao pods, which was associated with invincibility, but, perhaps more importantly, warriors that consumed chocolate were perceived as having more energy–a formidable opponent indeed (Martin 2-2). Even in more modern days, this idea is still present that chocolate can be a source of nutrition. Robertson writes that “[chocolate] formed an important part of Royal Navy rations, which accounted for half of Britain’s cocoa imports.” Indeed, most soldiers had chocolate rations one of the first English words a Japanese boy would learn during WWII was “chocolate.” (Martin 3-9).
Overall, this is an attempt to counter the belief that chocolate is an indulgence for females, which stems from the dieting culture that is often closely associated with the female identity. We also are able to tie this “new” image of chocolate back to its first uses of the Maya and Aztecs. However, chocolate has branched far from its roots in Mayan and Aztec culture. There has been such a great divergence that today, it would obviously be unreasonable to use chocolate as a meal replacement; the massive amounts of added sugar and fat would not offer the nutrients chocolate used to when spices and corn were added in the days of the Maya and Aztecs (Martin, 2-4). In any case, the theme that chocolate is an indulgent dessert in regard to females is a reflection of the culture in the United States today–chocolate has not always been associated in this way. Now the question remains whether this portrayal of women and chocolate is problematic and how these chocolate companies will continue to mold this image of feminine indulgence.
“8M consumers in UK eat chocolate every day.” Food News International, 17 April 2014. Web. 10 April 2015. <http://foodnewsinternational.com/2014/04/17/europe-8m-consumers-in-uk-eat-chocolate-every-day-says-report/>.
“Endangered Species Chocolate, Natural Dark Chocolate.” iHerb.com. Web. 10 April 2015.<http://www.iherb.com/Endangered-Species-Chocolate-Natural-Dark-Chocolate-3-oz-85-g/32747>.
Martin, Carla. Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food. Februrary 2, 2015.
Martin, Carla. Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food. Februrary 4, 2015.
Martin, Carla. Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food. March 9, 2015.
Robertson, Emma. 2010. Chocolate, Women and Empire: A Social and Cultural History. pp. 1-131.
Shiltz, Tom. “Research on Males and Eating Disorders.” NEDA. Web. 10 April 2015. <https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/research-males-and-eating-disorders>.
“Who consumes the most chocolate” CNN, 17 January 2012. Web. 10 April 2015. <http://thecnnfreedomproject.blogs.cnn.com/2012/01/17/who-consumes-the-most-chocolate/>.