Chocolate has a noted history of race and gender stereotypes when it comes to its advertising. With African countries producing roughly 71% of the cocoa in the world, chocolate has been likened to Africans or Black individuals, while vanilla has conversely been associated with Caucasian or White individuals (Martin). In a similar vein, chocolate is often marketed to women, and frequently depicts women being unable to control their raw desire for chocolate, similar to how men crave sex. However, most instances of modern chocolate commercials including these advertising tropes tend to portray White females succumbing to chocolate. In a surprising move, Cadbury released an advertisement in 2011 linking the English Supermodel Naomi Campbell who is of African-Jamaican descent to their new Dairy Milk Bliss chocolate. Cadbury could have released an equally effective advertisement without singling out Naomi — rather than continue chocolate advertising stereotypes, they could have pushed their message of a luxurious chocolate without necessarily bringing race or gender into the discussion.
The image in question depicts a chocolate bar surrounded by diamonds, with the text “Move over Naomi, there’s a new diva in town” above, and in a smaller subscript, “I’m the world’s most pampered bar. now in three new flavours” below. The marketing attempt that Cadbury was aiming for was Naomi’s association as a famous diva and to suggest that their Bliss chocolate had equitable status in the chocolate world, perhaps seeking to sell to higher status individuals who wanted to relate. These stereotypes are by no means new in the chocolate industry, who seek to “position us in relation to that product as gendered, classed, and raced beings” (Robertson 19). For example, the color purple has long been used in relation to royalty — as such, many ads that seek to link their product with high status employ the color purple, such as in this ad. However, racial undertones begin to emerge when considering the history of chocolate’s association with Black individuals, essentially equating Naomi to a chocolate bar. She took personal offense, stating, “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.” Her words are well justified, as the comparison objectifies her as a result of her skin tone.
Cadbury could have taken a much more publicly acceptable stance of their ad by generalizing the behavior rather than the type of individual pertaining to their chocolate brand. In our group, we created a rectified version of the ad that removes the racial and gender implications that Cadbury originally found themselves under fire. The new ad reads, “Move over supermodels, there’s a new star in town — I’m the world’s most revolutionary bar. now in three new flavors.” By removing the attack on Naomi, we could focus more on the general public attitude they should be feeling towards the chocolate bar — one of luxury and high class. Only the words needed to be changed, as the rest of the advertisement (the color purple and the diamonds) still evoke a sense of upper status.
After originally defending the ad, Cadbury eventually went on to remove the ad from circulation and offered a public apology. However, it’s interesting how Naomi took particular offense at this chocolate incident, when she has been associated with chocolate in the past. She had a photo taken of her on top of a chocolate Playboy bunny, for the December 1999 Playboy issue. The two incidents seem to conflict in her message, so it’s possible that she was upset with how she was likened to her particular diva behavior in the Cadbury ad, or the fact that they got free advertisement without her permission. However you know what they say — any press is good press.
Martin, Carla D. “Issues in Advertisements.” Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food. Harvard Extension School: Cambridge, MA. 1 Apr. 2015. Class Lecture.
Mesure, Susie. “Naomi Campbell in Race Row over Cadbury Chocolate.” The Independent. Independent Digital News and Media, 29 May 2011. Web. 10 Apr. 2015.
Robertson, Emma. Chocolate, Women and Empire: A Social and Cultural History. Manchester: Manchester UP, 2009. Print.