In Western culture, chocolate has been heavily associated with femininity and marketed as such. It is the food of love, the substance that can stave off or appease hormonal cravings, and the indulgence that can replace a man. Thus, within advertising, it is common for chocolate to be conflated with female sexuality. Women are regularly depicted eating chocolate seductively or orgasmically, in the throws of ecstasy or flirtation. This commercial imagery has been so widely used and disseminated that it has become normalized. For most viewers, it is no longer strange or unusual to see a woman in print advertisement or on television bite into a chocolate bar as melt or moan in a quasi-sexual manner. Yet, I posit, that if this was done by women on the street in everyday life, it would be immediately pinpointed as unusual and inappropriate. Thus, I aim to explore and unpack this gendered and sexed view of advertisement and will draw on Erving Goffman’s work in Gender Advertisement, largely as contextualized by Sut Jhally in “Codes of Gender” and Robin Bernstein’s lecture series to deconstruct two ads: one presented by Godiva, the other, I created to further interrogate this social marketing phenomena. I will ultimately argue that this gendered marketing of chocolate through female sexuality is neither inherent nor natural, and may in fact have a socially deterrent effect on men as well.
To further interrogate this normalization of chocolate advertisement and female sexuality, I look to Bernstein and Goffman’s theories on the role advertisement plays in constructing subliminally self-referencing tropes. As Bernstein puts it, “Advertisements do not invent anything from scratch. They merely distill and intensify concepts in culture that already exist…They draw out forms or displays of culture that are singled out for specific prominence” (Bernstein). Thus, they do not necessarily invent or portray truth. What they do instead is highlight images, tropes, or fantasies within a culture that already exist and re-appropriate them, further entrenching that image into the viewer’s existing database of normative tropes. Goffman aims to deconstruct this and “make visible what seems to be invisible, or at least below our level of conscious perception” (Jhally 4). He does this by “queering” the pre-existing norm and taking the normative gender displays in ads and altering one social facet to distort the fantasy. As Jhally summarized, “It is only when we start to look at [these compositionally distorted ads] carefully that we begin to see how strange and weird they actually are—and begin the process of thinking independently, for ourselves, about what the culture holds up as normal” (Jhally 5).
Thus, using this Goffmanian framework, I have constructed a “distorted” ad to question the normalized gender assumptions and marketing tactics employed by Godiva that commonly go unnoticed. In the Godiva ad, we see a woman, seductively eating chocolate next to the text, “Every woman is one part Godiva.” In the distorted ad, a man is positioned in a similar comportment next to a similar text with altered gender pronouns. In both ads, the models have quasi-sexualized interaction with chocolate and chocolate consumption, yet the distorted one seems to carry a strange, almost humorous quality to it. Watching a man eat chocolate in this sexually or physically gratifying way begins to feel like parody.
Using Goffman’s theory, I argue that this is due to the normalization of feminized chocolate marketing as well as the cultural gender dichotomy of masculinity and femininity. Goffman argues that masculinity is largely defined in opposition to femininity. To be a man is to not be a woman (Jhally 3). A man consuming chocolate in this sexually gratifying way looks funny or humorous to the viewer, as it appears “effeminate” or “un-masculine.” This draws attention to the altered causal pathways of this gendered advertisement. No longer does the pathway run via gender to consumption with ads depicting women eating chocolate in a sexualized nature. This advertising trope has become so normalized that consumption also signals gender. Consuming chocolate in this style is now seen as feminine. In other words, it’s no longer just about women eating chocolate. Eating chocolate is now a feminine thing to do.
Thus, this comparison piece of the Godiva ad next to the distorted ad highlights how culturally constructed, extrinsic, and widespread the chocolate marketing’s conflation of female sexuality and chocolate has become. Following Goffman’s framework, through the distorted ad, we can see how the link between gender and chocolate consumption has become normalized. The image of a man consuming chocolate in a quasi-sexual manner is jarring and unusual, and when juxtaposed against a woman in a similar body comportment highlights the cultural conflation of female sexuality and chocolate that usually goes by unnoticed. Furthermore, the attachment of humor to the distorted ad also highlights another level of subliminal marketing. The man eating chocolate looks strange, almost humorous as he is consuming chocolate in a feminine style, suggesting that the conflation of female sexuality and chocolate goes both ways. Females eat chocolate, and eating chocolate is feminine. Thus, I ultimately posit that this marketing trope may in fact subliminally deter men from chocolate consumption altogether. Because masculinity is constructed in such opposition to femininity, chocolate advertising has drawn out such strong connections between the two, this commercial trope may actually deter men from eating chocolate in a serious fashion due to this entrenched gendered association.
Bernstein, Robin. “Goffman and Advertisement.” Race, Gender, and Performances. United States, Cambridge. 21 Sept. 2011. Lecture.
The Codes of Gender: Identity and Performance in Pop Culture. Dir. Sut Jhally. Perf. Sut Jhally. Media Education Foundation, 2007. Transcript.