Sexualized Chocolate: How Gender Portrayals in Chocolate Advertising Have Changed Over Time

In 2012, US consumers spent 16 billion dollars on a collective 2.8 billion pounds of chocolate.[1] To move this much chocolate and help spur demand, big chocolate companies such as Hershey’s, Nestle, and Cadbury invest massive amounts of money on advertising each year. However these advertisements do not always tell the full story behind production and often appeal to racist and sexist imagery grounded in the history of chocolate. In this blog post, I will argue that gendered notions of chocolate consumption have existed since the introduction of cacao to the West; over time, because of an increasingly saturated and digital marketplace, these notions have become unnecessarily sexualized to help them stand out to the average consumer.

Gendered assumptions about chocolate have existed since the European discovery of cacao in the 16th century. Historian Emma Robertson argues that during early Western exchanges of chocolate, men were depicted as the bearers of chocolate while women were positioned as consumers.[2] Historian Catherine Hall builds on this assessment when analyzing Cortes’ introduction to chocolate by Merina, an Aztec woman, and adds, “The ‘native’ woman, both the feeding mother of infancy and the sexual woman, gave the European man access to the New World and its delights”.[3] Thus from the very beginning, the West considered indigenous women indulgent chocoholics that could share their knowledge with colonists. Chocolate companies today allude to this early gender disparity when discussing the role of chocolate. But Cadbury World, a historical exhibit sponsored by the Cadbury company, provides anecdotal evidence that takes this early connection between chocolate, desire, and woman, to a much darker extreme: In the 17th century, women in Chiapas, Mexico were banned from drinking chocolate during church services. The women were said to have responded to this religious proclamation by poisoning their priest.[4] Although many other reasons for the poisoning may have existed, the story that Cadbury World tells today focuses exclusively on chocolate deprivation. In this sense, Cadbury is using the past to justify its modern depictions of obsessive women in advertising.

During the era of mass chocolate, Cadbury and Rowntree have continued to build on gendered notions of chocolate established by their predecessors. Early 20th century advertisements, like the Rowntree Cocoa Ad pictured below, emphasize the relationship between mother and child and depict good mothers feeding their children cocoa. Eventually these motherly ads gave way to more individual-focused advertisements such as Rowntree Black Magic that urged women to give into their temptations and personally indulge in chocolate. A 1930 Aero slogan encapsulates the changing mentality surrounding gender and chocolate– “Do you know that when you get an urge to eat chocolate, you shouldn’t resist… these urges are ‘natural’ and should be obeyed”.[5] Aero not only assumes that all women adore chocolate; Aero implies that women have a biological desire for chocolate. By linking chocolate to something primal, these kinds of advertisements set the stage for increasingly sexualized portrayals of women.

Rowntree Cocoa
Rowntree Cocoa 
Rowntree Black magic
Rowntree Black magic

The most egregious ads today are those that objectify women and feed into antiquated notions of chocolate consumption. The 2003 Cadbury advertisement below exemplifies these notions. The ad is for Cadbury Fruit & Nut bars– a new product that combines chocolate with whole pieces of almonds and raisins. To advertise the addition of whole pieces, Cadbury utilizes a partial photograph of a naked, attractive, white woman and includes the slogan, “Good things shouldn’t come in pieces”. By implying that both the woman and the bar are ‘good things’ that should be enjoyed, Cadbury objectifies this woman and uses her sexuality to cut through the digital noise and attract the attention of both men and women walking down the street. These problems arise because the advertisement feeds into Western beauty standards and attempts to categorize Cadbury Fruit and Nut bars as a ‘good thing’ that will help women achieve the body they want and men achieve the woman they desire. The advertisement also includes the trademark Cadbury purple streak, emblematic of royalty and reminiscent of British Imperialism. In fact, the shade of purple that Cadbury uses is extremely similar to the shade of fabric in the British Crown, pictured below, allowing Cadbury to portray itself as a patriotic British company that works in the best interest of the British consumer.

Cadbury Advertisement
Cadbury Advertisement
British Imperial Crown
British Imperial Crown

To help push back against these gendered notions of chocolate consumption, we created an advertisement that highlights the product instead of the woman while still attracting attention in a digital era. The new advertisement includes the same elements as the old advertisement– the attractive partial, the bar in the corner, the imperial purple streak– but it advertises the Cadbury Fruit and Nut Bar in a new way. Gone is the objectifying slogan and in its place lies a new motto, “Good things come in small packages”. The new slogan explains that good things such as chocolate, almonds, and raisins are within the chocolate, but treats the woman as an elegant consumer, not a prop to increase sales. Although the full lips of the woman are arguably still highlighting her sexuality, her new outfit identifies her as a successful professional and allows Cadbury to now responsibly attract attention to itself while still making a healthy profit.

Revised Cadbury Advertisement
Revised Cadbury Advertisement

The tone and message of the advertisement have changed for the better by simply tweaking a slogan and adding some clothing. These small changes have made a big impact but still effectively sell the product, showing that sexualized chocolate is an unnecessary phenomenon. Rather than focus on gender or race in advertising, chocolate companies should do a better job of explaining where their products actually come from. They should highlight the labor behind the bar and identify the ways that they are supporting initiatives like fair trade. And ultimately, they should abandon the smoke and mirrors associated with sexuality and allow a responsible and a delicious product speak for itself.

[1] Carla D. Martin, “Lecture 15: Modern Day Slavery”.

[2] Emma Robertson, Chocolate, Women, and Empire: A Social and Cultural History Manchester University Press (London: 2013). 68.

[3] Catherine Hall, ‘Turning a Blind Eye’: Memories of Empire Cambridge University Press (London: 1998) 34.

[4] Meredeth L. Dreiss and Sharon Greenhill, Chocolate: Pathway to the Gods University of Arizona Press (2008) 150.

[5] Robertson, Cbocolate, Women, and Empire, 35.

Works Cited:

Dreiss, Meredeth L. and Greenhill, Sharon. Chocolate: Pathway to the Gods University of Arizona Press, 2008.

Hall, Catherine. ‘Turning a Blind Eye’: Memories of Empire London: Cambridge University Press, 1998.

Martin, Carla D. “African and African American Studies 119x: Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food”, 2015.

Robertson, Emma. Chocolate, Women, and Empire: A Social and Cultural History London: Manchester University Press, 2013.

Images Cited:

British Imperial Crown,

Cadbury Chocolate Advertisement,

Rowntree Black Magic Advertisement,

Rowntree Cocoa Advertisement,


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