The Contingencies of Chocolate in Childhood


Issues of production have surrounded the cacao industry for decades. From Joseph Burtt’s investigation of Sao Tome and Principe in the early 1900’s, to the ongoing investigation of modern day labor practices, big chocolate companies have long been under fire for suspected (and often proven) instances of exploited labor in their supply chains. Many of the exploited are children who reportedly live in harsh conditions, perform dangerous and strenuous tasks, and are often subjected to physical abuse (Off, 121). However, the struggles of these children go largely unseen by the average consumer in developed nations today. Indeed, not only do chocolate companies often avoid addressing the modern day issues of child labor, but in some instances, their marketing strategies play to the one thing deprived of exploited children: a childhood. A subtle, but undeniable example of this marketing strategy is the 2009 commercial for Cadbury Dairy Milk chocolate, starring two children and their dancing eyebrows. This commercial, with its funny premise, upbeat music, and young subjects, advertises chocolate by connecting it to the idea of childhood joy. However, this is in direct opposition to the experiences of children at the other end of supply chains just like Cadbury’s. In response, our advertisement reflects this opposition, juxtaposing the childlike joy of chocolate with the lack of joy and true childhood in its production. By bringing the child worker to the forefront, creating a direct comparison between the producing and consuming child, and playing to the audiences’ sense of morality, our advertisement critiques that of Cadbury, shifting the focus of marketing from the experience of consumption to that of production, and challenging the notion that childhood is indeed universal.

Eyebrows debuted in 2009 in the UK to advertise Cadbury’s Dairy Milk chocolate. At the beginning of the ad, a man is present, setting up the lighting for what seems to be a photo shoot. When the phone rings, he leaves, the two children look at each other, and a push of the boy’s watch begins the music. Alone, the young boy and girl then begin a choreographed dance routine with only their eyebrows to the fun, upbeat music. The commercial ends with a purple screen and Cadbury’s marketing slogan: “A Glass and a Half Full of Joy.” Cadbury thus paints a specific picture of childhood and consumerism in this ad, aiming to persuade the audience that consuming their chocolate will lead to unadulterated joy, equivalent to that of a child. They accomplish this in a variety of ways. For one, the children depicted in the ad fulfill a specific image of consumers. In her article about the framing of Divine Chocolate’s advertisements, Kristy Leissle speaks on the importance of stylization in crafting visual depictions of the “modern” consumer, (Leissle, 134). Cadbury does just this by stylizing the children as well put together, the boy in a sweater and tie, and the girl in a purple dress, indicative of high class. Furthermore, the boy’s use of technology suggests that they are somewhat educated, and the fact that the routine was obviously choreographed suggests that these children have time for leisure activities like eyebrow dancing. In this way, Cadbury’s stylization depicts the target consumer—higher class, educated, and with disposable time/income.

However, in choosing to make these two characters children, Cadbury also ties in the concept of childhood to the image of the consumer. The young age of the stars is emphasized from the outset of the ad, when the adult leaves and the children are left alone to play. This suggests that, had the adult been present, the children would not have been behaving in such a way. Furthermore, the idea of joyful play is accentuated by the use of the pink balloon, used as an instrument, but iconic of childhood all the same. Excluding the adult from the fun in the commercial undeniably links the joy of play with children. But, as viewers watch the commercial, the peculiarity of the children’s behavior is humorous and brings joy to the audience as well. In this way, Cadbury creates a connection between the children and the audience, interweaving the image of a consumer with the uninterrupted joy of childhood, and suggesting—through the commercial and the slogan—that their product can recreate such joy in everyone.

Response to Cadbury's "Eyebrows" commercial regarding children in the supply chain.
Response to Cadbury’s “Eyebrows” commercial regarding children in the supply chain. (see full citation below)

Our ad challenges Cadbury’s illustration of childhood joy and the claim that chocolate always produces such joy. In Eyebrows, Cadbury does not place chocolate in the forefront of the advertisement, but instead highlights the consumer and the effect of the product on the consumer. Our ad turns this on its head by focusing instead on the producers and the effects of production. Featuring a duality of images, our ad is designed to encourage comparison. The left half of the image depicts our reinterpretation of Cadbury’s consumerist child. All smiles and surrounded by a bountiful basket of chocolate, these children embody the concept of childhood joy surrounding chocolate. Opposite these girls is the image of a child on a cacao farm, carrying a similar basket, but this time full of cacao pods. He is barefoot and dirty, appearing sad and tired. The bottom corner of the ad reads, “Child labor is not so sweet.” By placing these visually related, but contrasting images opposite one another, our ad encourages the viewer to compare the childhood experiences of consumer and producer. Additionally, the slogan in the bottom right is a direct critique of Cadbury’s slogan. Instead of emphasizing the joy that chocolate brings consumers, we allude to the aforementioned difficult experiences child laborers often face in the pursuit of chocolate production. The goal of this divisive image was to illustrate the divisive quality of childhood cross-culturally.

In this way, we employ different persuasive techniques and advocate different consumer behaviors than Cadbury. As explained by Leissle, in order to persuade viewers to buy chocolate, the advertisements “need to show a positive image that makes you feel good,” (131). By juxtaposing these two images, we force the viewer to question the morality of purchasing certain chocolate. The contrast was supposed to be jarring, disrupting the continuous notion of childhood created by Cadbury to expose a different type of childhood: one devoid of joy and more emblematic of the picture painted by Carol Off of “dusty, frightened children, without footwear, dressed in scanty clothing, [with] unsmiling faces revealing poignant details” (Off, 123).

Our ad thus responds to Cadbury’s Eyebrows by using the same platform—childhood—to emphasize very different aspects of chocolate and to invoke very different emotions in the viewer. Instead of using playful youth to link childhood joy and naiveté with consumption, we use visual comparison and audience pathos to make the viewer consider the other side of the supply chain. By shifting the focus of marketing from consumption to production, our ad challenges the notion that childhood and the joy it engenders is universal. In bringing this dichotomy to the forefront, we call for change—in the production and marketing of chocolate, but more so in the understanding that everyone deserves a childhood.

Works Cited:

Leissle, Kristy. 2012. “Cosmopolitan cocoa farmers: refashioning Africa in Divine Chocolate advertisements.” Journal of African Cultural Studies 24 (2): 121-139

Off, Carol. 2008. Bitter Chocolate: The Dark Side of the World’s Most Seductive Sweet. New York: Random House. Chapter 6: The Disposables.

Multimedia Cited:

Cadbury commercial:

Link to Cadbury Joymaker: 

Response advertisement:




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