It seems that, along with the glass and a half of milk in every Cadbury bar, there are several centuries of racism mixed in. The British chocolate company has a long history of offensive advertising, from depictions of cartoonish Jamaicans to tone-deaf renderings of African villages. In a recent installment of the Cadburian tradition, the company released an ad that references Naomi Campbell, a supermodel who just so happens to be a black woman:
Public outcry over the ad, along with Campbell’s stating that she found the image “insulting and hurtful,” prompted Cadbury to remove it from billboards and printed publications. The company apologized, but the image serves as a model for two offensive ideas involving blackness.
The first is the notion of the “sassy black woman,” a caricature that is evoked by the advertisement’s use of the word “diva.” The angry black female is a distinct image in society, and it’s one that depicts its victims as insufferable drama queens. “Diva” is to black women what “thug” is to black men: a thinly veiled code word dripping with stereotypes and unfazed by the passage of time.” Worth noting here is that Cadbury was exonerated of any charges of racism when an advertising watchdog ruled that the ad was “likely to be understood to refer to Naomi Campbell’s reputation for ‘diva-style’ behaviour rather than her race” (Vogue). This excuse, perhaps similar to the one used in the Cadbury advertising offices, neglects the reality that race is injected into the diva perception.
Cadbury also faltered in failing to recognize the dangerous potential of their advertisements. As scholar J. Celeste Walley-Jean notes, “The ‘angry black woman’ stereotype arises from [a] foundation of negative images” (71). The Bliss ad is just the sort of negative image to which Walley-Jean is referring, and its power cannot be overstated. As Jacqueline Kacen and Michelle Nelson explain in their study of gendered marketing, “Advertising is both a creator and a mirror of society, showing us in a ‘soundbite’ how to act, dress, and behave and then feeding those images back to us in an endless feedback loop” (292).
An even greater problem with Cadbury’s advertisement is its not-so-subtle marriage of chocolate and skin color. There’s a troubling history linking race and cocoa, from Spanish Conguito candies to Belgian chocolate hands (Martin 14). Cadbury’s Bliss ad continues the tradition, which objectifies black people and associates them with the sinful nature of chocolate. So prevalent is this practice that the Cadbury ad was not Campbell’s first time being likened to cocoa; the model’s playboy shoot featured her leg slung over a chocolate bunny:
What makes Cadbury’s racially-charged image even more pernicious is its assault on Campbell as an outside party.
The company could have—and should have—avoided offense by removing any outside party from the advertisement. Even in the event that Cadbury could not resist referencing a celebrity, it would behoove the company to do so in a way that does less to objectify the star, particularly in the context of racial stereotypes. A proposed alternative features a reference to the Sandman, a figure of folk legend and fifties radio. The word “pampered”, and with it, the image of a spoiled beauty queen, might also be swapped out in favor of “dreamy”.
Cadbury’s racial foibles leave shamefully spacious room for improvement, and the Sandman option would give the company a step in the right direction. By avoiding stereotypes, the company might attract more customers but, more crucially, it will move into the twenty-first century.
Alexander, Ella. “Naomi Cadbury Latest.” Vogue UK. Vogue, 21 June 2011. Web. 10 Apr. 2015.
“Cadbury Apologizes to Naomi Campbell.” S2SMagazinecom RSS. N.p., 06 June 2011. Web. 10 Apr. 2015.
“Cadbury’s Apology to Naomi Campbell Follows a History of Racist Advertising.” CBS News. CBS Interactive, n.d. Web. 10 Apr. 2015.
Kacen, Jacqueline J., and Michelle Nelson. “We’ve come a long way baby–or have we? Sexism in advertising revisited.” Proceedings of the 6th Conference on Gender, Marketing and Consumer Behaviour. 2002.
“Mastication for Da Nation.” YouTube. YouTube, 26 Feb. 2007. Web. 10 Apr. 2015.
Moss, Hilary. “Naomi Campbell: Cadbury Ad ‘Insulting & Hurtful'” The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com, 31 May 2011. Web. 10 Apr. 2015.
“New Cadbury Advert.” YouTube. YouTube, n.d. Web. 10 Apr. 2015.
Walley-Jean, J. Celeste. “Debunking the Myth of the” Angry Black Woman”: An Exploration of Anger in Young African American Women.” Black Women, Gender & Families 3.2 (2009): 68-86.