Sexism in Contemporary Chocolate Marketing

The influence of marketing on consumers cannot be overstated. What we ultimately buy can be affected by how the product is portrayed. Increasingly so, companies rely on marketing that employs derogatory connotations in order to appeal to its consumer base. (Cohan 325) Specifically, chocolate companies utilize existing stereotypes of female domesticity and chocolate infatuation to enhance the appeal of their product. This marketing approach is a result of historical legacies of chocolate advertising, which originally portrayed women in this way in order to persuade and coax the growing class of female consumers into buying their products.

Sexist stereotypes have been incorporated into chocolate advertising since the early 20th century. In her book Chocolate, women and empire: A social and cultural history, Emma Robertson explores the use of these elements in the marketing of Rowntree’s Cocoa, a British confectionary brand. She cites an internal memo, which highlights that the firm’s approach should be “any technique by which we can appeal to the mother’s concern for the well-being of her family or her related anxiety about being a successful mother and winning the loyalty and gratitude of her husband and children.” (Robertson 20) Rowntree’s strategy is to guilt the mother into buying its products. This type of marketing also serves to marginalize her standing in the family because she is supposed to focus only on pleasing her husband and ensuring his comfort. The ads suggest that women could serve their families well by buying Rowntree’s chocolate. In this way, women were portrayed as being relegated to a subservient housewife role in early chocolate marketing.

Another sexist element present in Rowntree advertising is the claim that women are infatuated with chocolate. It is premised on the notion that women attempt to resist the temptation of chocolate, but cannot restrain themselves in the end. (Robertson 34)

1923 Rowntree’s Chocolates advertisement

In this 1920s advertisement, the woman, (presumably a wife) has received a Rowntree’s box of chocolates from her husband. She is mesmerized by the product, as evidenced by her intense stare at the box. Her husband sees her delight, and knows that he has given her the perfect gift. Marketing like this served to denigrate women as unable to control themselves (possibly animalistic) in their obsession with chocolate. Additionally, given the husband’s reaction, this advertisement implicitly suggested that accepting chocolate as a gift was another way women could flatter their husbands.

The stereotypes aforementioned are still ingrained in contemporary chocolate marketing.

Rolos, now produced by Nestle, were actually a creation of Rowntree’s Cocoa. The advertisement depicts a young couple where the wife is assisting her injured husband. She brings him water and his phone after he asks for them. As she is coming back, she sees him eat her last Rolo. She has visions of explosive anger and utter disbelief. Yet, she reverts back into reality and expresses no disappointment. In fact, she reassures her husband, saying, “Honey, it’s fine.” The ad ends with the slogan “Do you love someone enough to give them your last Rolo?” The ad is intended to appeal to the broad public, as Rolos are not marketed as luxury chocolate. It utilizes humor (the woman’s vision) that is relatable to viewers of all ages, including children. The ad is trying to show how much people value their chocolate, especially the last piece.

However, the ad draws attention to specific stereotypes through the differing actions of the husband and wife. For example, the husband believes eating the last piece is inconsequential and casually throws it in his mouth. Yet, the wife is seen reacting very emotionally to the husband eating the chocolate. This dichotomy underscores the idea that women act lustfully around chocolate. Additionally, seeing her internal and external reaction promulgates the belief that women are submissive around men. She is extremely distraught at him having eaten her last piece, but does not raise any objections in actuality. She does not reveal her true feelings in an attempt to placate her husband. She is also seen running errands for him, by bringing him water and his phone, which reinforces the image of women as housewives.

Our group sought to challenge the belief that chocolate advertisements must contain sexist undertones to effectively market the company’s products. In this belief, we created an ad that we consider has as much marketing appeal as the actual Rolo advertisement, but without disparaging connotations.

Screen Shot 2015-04-10 at 12.49.29 AM

This advertisement depicts the same couple and has broad appeal as before. However, both the husband and wife are willing to allow the other to eat the last piece of chocolate. This image portrays the wife as wanting to see her husband happy. At the same time, she is not being pressured into accepting a subservient role in the couple. The husband and wife are both content with not indulging in the chocolate in order to see their partner delighted. In this way, the couple is shown to be on equal footing. Another important element of this advertisement is the slogan, “Share the Love.” It presents a more altruistic and considerate message to the audience than the slogan of the real ad, which serves to create a division between the couple. In this way, our image removes the stereotypes that are implicitly attached to the real Rolo ad.

Sexist overtones in chocolate marketing, such as female domesticity and chocolate infatuation, were introduced in chocolate marketing as a way to attract more consumers. Many of these connotations are still utilized in contemporary advertisements, as evidenced by the Rolo ad discussed. Our group set out to create an advertisement that did not incorporate these disparaging elements. The image presented above, we believe, would still have the same public appeal and thus not inhibit Rolos’ sales.

Image Citations (in order of use):

Works Cited:

Cohan, John A. “Towards a New Paradigm in the Ethics of Women’s Advertising.” Springer 33.4 (2001): 323-37. JSTOR. Web. 10 Apr. 2015.

Robertson, Emma. Chocolate, Women and Empire: A Social and Cultural History. Manchester: Manchester UP, 2009. Print.


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