Move Over, Racism: Examining Depictions of Race through Chocolate Advertising

Perhaps the single most common point of contention in chocolate advertising is when racial implications are actively involved, a trend which is unfortunately frequent in a marketing world designed to draw attention and even to stir controversy. Chocolate has a legacy as a euphemistic descriptor for people of color, often times including allusion to racism through simulated blackface, minstrelsy, or related acts. In Emma Robertson’s Chocolate, Women, and Empire, she recounts white westerners drawing comparisons between the dark skin of cacao farmers and the cacao itself, noting “’Colour and brightness have a fascinating for the West Indian girls.’ This colour is located in the pods themselves, in the ‘highly-coloured costume and headgear’ of the girls and, implicitly, in the skin of the workers” (Robertson 81). Particularly in today’s world where a legacy of slavery remains prevalent in many societies (and even alarmingly active in others), advertisers need to be cautious that ads do not carry potentially offensive racial overtones, even when unintended. Given that chocolate itself has an imperial history of slavery and racism in the cacao supply chain, this is particularly relevant when working in chocolate advertising; Robertson notes in a different publication that “such raced imaginings of cocoa consumption have both reflected and fed into a broader culture of racism in the west,” which has alarming implications for an ethical society (Hund et al. 171).

A 2011 Cadbury advertisement that refers to Naomi Campbell, an English supermodel.
A 2011 Cadbury advertisement that refers to Naomi Campbell, an English supermodel.

One advertisement that has stirred controversy in the past few years due to its racial implications is the pictured still image published in 2011 by Cadbury for their new Bliss bar. Visually, the appeal of the advertisement is clear – a predominant purple theme alludes to the “royalty” often associated with that color, and the heap of glimmering diamonds upon which the bar rests reinforces the “richness” associated with this bar and the advert. It plays on the viewer’s emotions of interest in luxury and indulgence, both of which are stereotypical themes associated with chocolate consumption. Inherently, the imagery here does not pose a substantial problem with respect to race, although one could argue that the glamorous image of the chocolate bar is far removed from the dismal working conditions that likely went into harvesting the cacao for its production. However, the text in the image, which reads, “Move over Naomi, there’s a new diva in town. I’m the world’s most pampered bar, now in three NEW flavours,” posits quite a different message than the image. The advertisement refers to Naomi Campbell, an English supermodel who has had an extremely successful career in and out of the modelling industry.

The ad is troubling in its implications about Naomi’s race, gender, and accomplishments. The most upfront message is simply the direct comparison of Naomi to the chocolate bar, both of which notably are brown in color. While some might argue that this is not a primary message of the advertisement, it was certainly prevalent enough to garner attention from Naomi herself, who responded by indicating: “I’m shocked. It’s upsetting to be described as chocolate, not just for me, but for all black women. It is insulting and hurtful” (Moss 1). Reducing her race and culture to a skin tone through advertising trivializes her accomplished career, objectifying her and comparing her to something sweet to be occasionally enjoyed. The phrasing of the text reinforces this comparison, implying that she is a “diva” and that only the “world’s most pampered” bar could replace her as the advert suggests. This plays on stereotypes often associated with successful women, which can include negative connotations in context.

CadburyBliss_Revised
Our iteration of the Cadbury ad removes the targeted element and generalizes language.

To correct for this advertisement, my group has created a new iteration, pictured right. Our version of the ad leaves the “royal” imagery, playing on the same feelings of luxury and indulgence that are associated with chocolate. However, the wording has been substantially changed – rather than targeting one specific individual, our iteration of the ad generalizes the message to refer to “supermodels” as a whole, who implicitly have careers centered around being known icons. Rather than using the term “diva” to describe the models (as this term often carries connotations of being spoiled and attention-garnering while lacking regard for others), we substituted the word “star,” which correctly relates to the celebrity status of supermodels while still acknowledging their accomplishments. Similarly, rather than use the word “pampered” to describe the bar (and by extension, the models), we chose to use “revolutionary” to imply that it rises above and beyond other bars. On the whole, the messaging of the ad remains intact, promoting the bar as unique without trivializing any one individual or group.

Interestingly, despite the offensive overtones of the ad, public opinion on the matter was not entirely one-sided. A quick perusal of Twitter hashtags from the time of the controversy indicates that some users felt that the ad was racist and objectifying, whereas others felt that Naomi overreacted, or even that being compared to chocolate could be a compliment. The divided opinion on the matter drives home the notion that there is not firm enough social awareness surrounding the usage of chocolate as a euphemism for race, and should serve as a call to action that we must collectively be responsible for reducing racism through avenues such as advertising and marketing.

twitter_unsure

twitter_compliment

twitter_overreaction

twitter_objectifies
The above four tweets reveal a division in public opinion about the content of the original Cadbury advertisement.

Works Cited:

Hund, W., Pickering, M., & Robertson, E. (2013). Bittersweet Temptations: Race and the Advertising of Cocoa. In A. Ramamurthy (Ed.), Colonial advertising & commodity racism (pp. 171-196). Wien ; Zürich.

Robertson, E. (2009). Chocolate, women and empire: A social and cultural history. Manchester: Manchester University Press.

Multimedia:

Jane, H., Hashmi, S., Hassim, S., & Dolphin, K. (2011, June 1). Hashtag search – #cadbury #naomi. Retrieved April 10, 2015, from https://twitter.com/search?q=#cadbury #naomi&src=typd

Moss, H. (2011, May 31). Naomi Campbell: Cadbury Ad ‘Insulting & Hurtful’ The Huffington Post. Retrieved April 10, 2015, from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/05/31/naomi-campbell-cadbury-ad_n_868909.html

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