History’s Role in Sexist Chocolate Advertisements

Food companies have, for many years now, used advertisements as a way of bolstering the sales of their products by making them more attractive to the public. Chocolate producing firms are no exception to this, and have made use of various different marketing tools to help influence people to buy their products. Today, chocolate advertisements can frequently be seen to utilise sexist stereotypes surrounding women in order to enhance the public’s urge to purchase chocolate. I believe it can be argued that the current levels of sexism seen in chocolate commercials can be attributed to significant historical changes both to the chocolate industry and to the way that women were perceived in society in the early and mid 1900’s. Furthermore, it can be argued that the current use of sexist stereotypes in chocolate commercials is unacceptable and, by reducing it, chocolate companies will be benefiting society as a whole.

A prime example of a chocolate advertisement that demonstrates the use of sexist stereotypes is the recently televised Rolo commercial (seen below). The commercial portrays a relatively young couple where the woman in the relationship is catering to her injured boyfriend by bringing him things. Whilst doing this, her boyfriend casually eats her last Rolo chocolate. Upon seeing this, the woman envisions herself dropping his things in anger of the situation, breaking them in the process. However, when he askes if his actions were okay, she tells him it is fine. The tagline at the end of the commercial asks the question ‘Do you love anyone enough to give them your last Rolo?’

Seemingly targeted at a general audience, the aim of this commercial appears to be focused on highlighting, in a comical fashion, the importance of chocolate to people, or more specifically, women, and how they deem it acceptable to share it only with loved ones. It also, possibly unintentionally, demonstrates the dichotomy between men and women in terms of their views towards chocolate, as, whilst the woman clearly places a very high value on the last Rolo, the man nonchalantly tosses it into his mouth, unaware of its importance to his girlfriend.

To achieve the aim of this commercial, the advertisers made use of some commonly known stereotypes surrounding women and their perceived role in society. Firstly, the events of the commercial suggest that women are inferior and submissive to men, as the woman gets her boyfriend his things and also tells him his actions were fine when this is not what she truly believes. Secondly, the commercial also highlights the commonly held notion that women love and cherish chocolate far more than men.

The use of these stereotypes is not unique to the Rolo commercial, but instead very common amongst present day advertisements for chocolate. The industrial revolution can be said to play a role in the sexism that we see in today’s advertisements, as it resulted in chocolate being a food that could be purchased by the working class. Because of this, women were the main targets to confectionary companies, as they were considered the ‘purchasing agents’ of the family who could act in the interest of their husbands (Robertson). The stereotype that women love chocolate, on the other hand, can be said to stem from the 1960’s, when the social power of women increased. Because of this, chocolate advertisements implemented the idea that women didn’t need men when they had chocolate (Anderson). This led to the belief that men could buy chocolate to help secure sex from women, further enhancing the idea that women love chocolate (Parkin).

A Rowntree poster from the 1920’s showing a women presenting chocolate to her husband
A Rowntree poster from the 1920’s showing a women presenting chocolate to her husband

Thus, it is clear that the stereotypes used in todays chocolate commercials are a result of adjustments in marketing across the early 20th century to accommodate for changes in the chocolate industry and women’s social status. The fact that Chocolate companies persist in using these stereotypes highlights the broader issues of sex and gender inequality in chocolate commercials. The idea that companies feel no need to remove these from their advertisement campaigns highlights a major cultural blind spot in today’s society regarding the issue and history of gender inequality and stereotyping of women. By removing them from their commercials, chocolate companies can act for the collective benefit of society by not endorsing the unacceptable treatment of women and bringing to attention the history behind it.

An example of a way that Rolo could have instead created their advertisement can be seen below. Like with the Rolo commercial shown above, this advertisement targets a general audience with the comical use of a young couple. However, unlike in the original advertisement, this shows both partners arguing that the other should get the last Rolo. This implies that both the man and the woman highly cherish the importance of the last Rolo due to their love of chocolate, thus confronting the specific stereotype that women love chocolate more than men and the more general notion that men are superior to women. This is summarized by the tag line ‘share the love’, which opposes that of the original commercial. Thus it is clear that Rolo could have achieved their aim of the original commercial without the use of sexist stereotypes.

A potential Rolo Advert
A potential Rolo Advert

Ultimately, it is evident that sexism in todays chocolate commercials is simply a continuation of advertising methods introduced during the 20th century, Furthermore, it is clear that in today’s society, this use of sexism is unacceptable, and by removing it from their commercials, chocolate companies will be benefitting society as a whole.

Works Cited:

  • Robertson, E. ‘Chocolate, Women, and Empire: A Social and Cultural History’ (2010)
  • Anderson, L.V. ‘What’s Up with the Stereotype That Women Love Chocolate?’ Slate Magazine. N.p., n.d. Web. 9 Apr. 2015.
  • Parkin, K.J. ‘Food Is Love: Advertising and Gender Roles in Modern America’ (2007)

Images:

http://www.slate.com/articles/double_x/doublex/2012/02/valentine_s_day_do_women_crave_chocolate_or_is_that_a_stereotype_.single.html

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