In 2008 the Mars Company uploaded a video titled “Dove® Chocumentaries Presents™ Em Ocean” to YouTube as part of their Dove Individuals campaign. The video’s main character is a modern twenty-first century woman: Em, a Caucasian Englishwoman in her mid-thirties, is economically independent, romantically unattached, and highly emotional. Em is over-the-top, imbalanced, and obsessed with chocolate. She finds dramatic situations that make her sniffle and cry but—right before she’s ready to explode—Em eats a Dove Individual chocolate and immediately relaxes. Chocolate is her Xanax. Em never stops looking for the next hit… the addiction is undeniable.
In this video Em creates a problem and chocolate solves it. As she explains, “I’m not over the top or anything. I only have chocolate when I’m feeling emotional.”[i] Which is all the time. The “Chocumentary” storytelling arc resembles reality show camera footage that follows Em from her house to a funeral, a wedding, a café, and a movie store. Normal guests and employees react to Em’s larger-than-life emotional outbursts with cool disbelief, judgment, or silence. Their calmness highlights her irrationality.
The name “Em Ocean” explicitly refers to “emotion.” Despite Dove’s lifelike documentary-style camera shots, the character and her emotions are fabricated. Her overly-coiffed hair, huge hat, giant necklace, and clumps of eyeliner highlight a set of wide, frantic, teary eyes. Inflammatory, anxious colors like red, yellow, and orange fill her wardrobe. Although well groomed, Em looks look like a slightly imbalanced cartoon character. “I’ll be as strong as the next person. It’s just that occasionally unforeseen things get me down,” she explains.[ii] Em feels a limited range of negative emotions: anger, sadness, and anxiety. Chocolate, however, creates a different reality: calm. Chocolate is a problem-solver, a soother, and a constant positive companion. Dove hopes that we, like Em, will reach for individually wrapped chocolates all day long and become a “Dove Individual.”
Twenty-first century characters like Em Ocean are not unique. Beginning in the late 1940s and 1950s ads began to highlight women as “irrational narcissistic consumers.”[i] Dairy Box ads shifted the emphasis from heterosexual couples onto female characters utterly enamored with chocolate.[ii] For example, the character Judy was portrayed as contemporary, stylish, feminine, and independent of men.[iii] However, Judy was also absentminded and enticed by chocolates. Ad commentary instructed viewers to “Take no notice of Judy. Judy’s always up to her eyebrows in chocolate.”[iv] In this way, the seemingly independent and modern female consumer continued to be depicted as weak and defined by existing heterosexual gender relations.[v]
As Emma Robertson explains, the late 1950s actress Una Stubbs was similarly defined in ads by her chocolate consumption. Rowntree’s slogan described Una like this: “She’s enslaved by Dairy Box. She’s a Dairy Box Girl.”[i] Besides Dairy Box, Rowntree also marketed the Aero chocolate bar, which they framed variously as a “food substitute, as a romantic gift, and as a pleasurable guilty treat to be enjoyed alone.”[ii] In 1938 Rowntree marketed the small bars as a “personal and selfish purchase, being neither a gift, something to share, nor something to buy for the household.”[iii] Women dominated Aero ads, solidifying the association between women and chocolate.[iv] Just as romance motivated the purchase of Dairy Box, selfishness sold the Aero, and catharsis sold Dove Individuals.
In a subliminally sexual manner, 1930s Aero ads advised women to obey their desires.[v] As an Aero ad urged: “Do you know that when you get an urge to eat chocolate, you shouldn’t resist – there’s a deep physical reason for it?”[vi] The woman in the ad is taking a bite of an Aero bar and looking guiltily or sexily at the camera. The implication is clear: chocolate satisfies women’s heterosexual cravings or selfish urges.[vii] Em rents a stack of romantic movies as an excuse to consume Dove Individuals; both are cathartic and both satisfy her yearning for an absent male suitor. This aligns with Robertson’s claim that chocolate provides a “socially acceptable” and ordinary release of underlying sexual yearnings.[viii]
Women as chocolate consumers have been depicted as obsessed by the treat. Em exemplifies the idea that chocolate possesses addictive aspects that women cannot possibly resist.[i] Obsession drove her to seek and create drama; Em could not help herself. Just as a woman’s devotion to a man could minimize her individuality, a woman’s obsession with chocolate could also overshadow her identity. However, this loss of self is pleasurable, not unpleasant. Women are constantly portrayed as continuously battling temptation and resisting male sexual advances in order to retain a pure body. As Robertson explains, in the late twentieth century women were also expected to retain a beautiful body by resisting tempting and fattening foods like chocolate. To succumb to chocolate’s temptation is to momentarily surrender to pleasurable temptations.[ii]
To counter the bleary-eyed figure of Em I created the “3 Musketeers” ad for the Dove Company. This ad features three English friends who meet to catch up, to drink a coffee, and to share a “3 Musketeers” chocolate bar. They are calm, happy, supportive, and interactive with one another.
The ad intends to make viewers feel nostalgic for past coffee dates with friends, or excited to plan future coffee dates in which “3 Musketeers” chocolate will feature integrally in their interaction. The characters’ body language indicates the male-female relationship is merely platonic, rather than sexual or romantic. This ad will appeal to twenty-first century citizens who live in a Starbucks-dominated culture where most people eat, drink, socialize, or study at a coffee shop at some point during the week. By associating a “3 Musketeers” chocolate bar with a coffee shop friend date this appeals to consumers who have the disposable income to buy a chocolate bar and the extra time to sit and consume it with others. This chocolate is not fast food, it is a regular treat to linger over and share with others. Unlike Em, no negative situation is needed to justify consumption of a “Dove Individual” chocolate. Camaraderie—rather than catharsis—justifies their consumption.
“DOVE® CHOCUMENTARIES PRESENTS™ Em Ocean,” YouTube video, 1:30, posted by “okayeahokay,” May 11, 2008, <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7Ct_DGNB4wc >
Gengler, Amanda M. “Selling Feminism, Consuming Femininity.” Sage Publications Inc. on behalf of the American Sociological Association 10 (2011): 68-69.
Leissle, Kristy. “Cosmopolitan Cocoa Farmers: Refashioning Africa in Divine Chocolate advertisements.” Journal of African Cultural Studies 24.2 (2012): 121-139.
Robertson, Emma. Chocolate, Women and Empire: A Social and Cultural History. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2009.
Salvio, Paula M. “Dishing It Out: Food Blogs and Post-Feminist Domesticity.” Gastronomica: The Journal of Critical Food Studies, 12 (2012): 31-39.
“Why are You Still Single?” Real Asian Beauty (blog). December 7, 2012, <http://www.realasianbeauty.com/2012/12/why-are-you-still-single.html>
[i] Robertson, 35.
[ii] Robertson, 35.
[i] Robertson, 34.
[ii] Robertson, 34.
[iii] Robertson, 34.
[iv] Robertson, 34.
[v] Robertson, 35.
[vi] Robertson, 35.
[vii] Robertson, 35.
[viii] Robertson, 35.
[i] Robertson, 33.
[ii] Robertson, 33.
[iii] Robertson, 33.
[iv] Robertson, 33-34.
[v] Robertson, 34.
[ii] ““DOVE® CHOCUMENTARIES PRESENTS™ Em Ocean”