Advertising in chocolate relies on patriarchal norms of masculinity and femininity to market itself as a highly gendered product.
Although there are many definitions of patriarchy, I will use Sylvia Walby’s definition in order to show its effects within the commercial. Walby defines patriarchy as “a system of social structures, and practices in which men dominate, oppress, and exploit women (214).” From this notion of domination and exploitation, gender norms are constructed. Women are expected to be docile and submissive, where men are expected to be violent and aggressive for both physical and institutional domination. Upholding patriarchy encourages these norms as a means of maintaining hierarchy. Consequently, these characteristics are often conflated with and used to define masculinity. This allows little room for those who perform gender outside of these expectations to be valued and supported in society.
The original Snickers advertisement employs patriarchal norms of manhood in attempts to market Snickers as a masculine product. Mr. T uses physical violence to portray this message. He not only destroys the houses by pummeling through them on a monster truck, but he also uses a gallon gun to forcefully shoot the jogging man with Snickers. He evokes war-like sentiments with the gun, tank-type vehicle, and the banner of Snickers bars around his shoulder as ammo. Mr. T’s words and actions are also highlighted by his identity as a Black man. Black men are often perceived by society (through racist caricatures throughout history) as hypermasculine portraying high rates of violence, sexual prowess, and physical dominance. Bell hooks acknowledges that society often defines “patriarchal masculinity by the will to do violence (46).” Through this distinct portrayal of violence, he pits himself as opposing the assumed non-masculinity of the jogger. In this case in particular his identity is used to augment and exacerbate the idea of masculinity being forced onto the jogger. On the other hand, the jogger does not portray these norms of masculine performance. His short bright yellow shorts are highlighted in the beginning of this commercial as are the distinct movement of his hips, often associated with feminine movements. He is also critiqued for his choice of sport: speedwalking, which is being gender-typed as a feminine sport. Interestingly enough, the jogger seems to be evoking a traditional suburban housewife trope where she would be walking through her upper middle class neighborhood (as evidenced by the type of houses and setting) in the middle of the day while the children are at school and husband at work. Whereas this type of woman is normally the target of chocolate commercials, when these same types of characteristics are performed through a male body, it is automatically the object of violence and discrimination. Snickers seems to be trying very hard to brand the masculine aspect of its product by defining a particular type of masculinity. This commercial uses very charged language. Mr. T’s dialogue alone is highly offensive. “Disgrace to the man race”, and “run like a real man” are both types of speech affiliated with homophobia, targeted towards more feminine performing men. The tag line “get some nuts” equates gender performance with sex and promotes sexual prowess as a form of masculinity while undermining other performances not traditionally thought of as masculine.
Snickers is only one of a number of chocolate companies employing gender norms to market their products in a gendered manner. Godiva approaches this through the feminine lens. Instead of reaffirming masculine norms, Godiva uses chocolate to, not quite correct, “improper” feminine performance, but to align the consumption of chocolate with the expression of feminine performance. In the Godiva ad, a woman is dressed in a men’s pantsuit with her hair pulled up and away from her face. Upon consuming the chocolate, she lets her hair down and begins to give off a more feminine appearance. Similar to how Snickers is supposed to impose proper norms of masculinity, Godiva is positioning itself as a feminine brand by enhancing feminine performance through its consumption.
Walby discusses why we may see gender structures employed so frequently and pervasively in media.
“Discourses on femininity and masculinity are instituionalised in all sites of social life, not only in those institutions such as religions, media and education, which have cultural production as a central goal.” (227)
Advertisements use societal and cultural cues to market their products effectively by understanding the psyche of their intended audience. We can see that these commercials are directed towards very different audiences, however, we do see that they are very clearly exclude queer people, trans* and gender non conforming people. It’s important to understand how our society is reflected through advertising and why representation of all sorts is important because advertising works as a form of “cultural production”. It has the power not only to strengthen these understandings, but can work to change them as well.
Specifically in the Snickers ad, they tried to use Snickers as a means of correcting “incorrect” gender performance. In the second ad, Snickers can be used as an emphatic and supporting statement of your gender performance. Snickers claims ‘you’re not you when you’re hungry’, but what if you are? And what if Snickers allows you to be even more you? We have used this before and after advertisement to show how this form of gender performance on the left is only enhanced through Snickers consumption, seen by the increased similar performance in the photo on the right. This advertisement was created specifically in response to the Snickers ad above that attempted to subvert non-traditional gender norms. Using what is traditionally considered “incorrect” gender performance, we are hoping to increase representation for people performing all genders to their likeness, and to break down patriarchal gender norms of all types.
Walby, Sylvia. “Theorising Patriarchy.” Sociology, Vol.23 (2). 1989.
Hooks, bell. We Real Cool: Black Men and Masculinity. Routledge, New York. 2004.