While advertisements and marketing are meant to draw positive attention to their products, oftentimes they only cause controversy and scandal. Marketing promotions are often riddled with sexist, racist, or classist undertones that overshadow the true meaning of the advertisements; one of the biggest offenders is the food industry, specifically advertisement for sweets and chocolates. Chocolate marketing often relies on portraying women and children as innocent and sweet creatures that turn sinful and corrupt from the sensual tastes of chocolate. However, sometimes these campaigns can backfire, instead causing controversy and scandal that overshadow the initial intents of the advertisements.
Chocolate is a highly sexualized product ever since its popularization as a food product in the early European periods. Even before print adverts of chocolate and its mass production with the growth of large chocolate producers, chocolate was already a food targeted at women. In anecdotes that spread in the in the 1800s, women were portrayed as weak to the ways of chocolate; in Chiapas, Mexico, women would have to interrupt religious ceremonies in order to consume chocolate midday (Robertson, 68). These types of stories imply that women are unable to sustain or fuel themselves without chocolate, going so far as to suggest that they cannot perform basic functions (such as religious Mass) without taking time off to consume chocolate.
Furthermore, these stories paint pictures of women as unable to control themselves in a chocolate-induced rage. Continuing the story above, the women of Chiapas supposedly poisoned the bishop for not allowing them to eat their chocolate (Robertson 68). This paints the image of the typical “chocolate consuming” stereotype of women, creatures unable to control themselves around chocolate, and induced to perform sinful and carnal acts, such as killing, to get what the sweets that they crave. As historian Emma Robertson puts it, “chocolate becomes explicitly associated with sinful temptation in this tale, with women ruthless in its pursuit” (68).
This stereotype of a sinful, craving woman, cultivated by historical anecdotes as old as the history of chocolate in the modern world, persists today stronger than ever. In chocolate commercials, women are still lustful after chocolate. While examples of women depicted with this stereotype abound, this commercial from Nestle in Kazakhstan is particularly representative:
Here, a beautiful woman, happy with a teddy bear gift from her boyfriend, suddenly rips up the cup stuffed animal, and proclaims that it has no almonds or wafers. While this ad might seem harmless and cute, it is a prime example of how chocolate ads depict a woman’s lust and overpowering desire for chocolate. The woman, who is initially cheerful, becomes angry when he finds that she does not receive a sweet treat, leading her to rip up a cute stuffed animal and toss it away with little concern.
While these ads may have tones of sexuality and sinfulness imbued in their images, some ads can take this idea too far. In 2009, an advertisement by Peruvian chocolate company Caribu, produced by the ad agency El Garaje Lowe, generated lots of negative publicity and controversy.
In this print ad, we see an innocent, sweet, smiling young girl playing “kitchen” in her room. However, looking more closely at this ad reveals a truly horrifying scene; the little girl is killing a baby chick by grinding it up in a meat grinder. This innocent scene now looks extremely eerie; the green background of the room becomes creepy, and the girl’s sweet smile suddenly seems perverse and sinister. In the corner of the image, we see the tagline of the image: “The Dark Side of Sweetness”. The dark humor here is revealed; when you give little girls chocolate, their truly “dark” side comes out, and they can be motivated to do horrible things, including killing an animal for fun. While this ad may have intended to be dark humor for the intellectual who could look past the girl’s heinous acts, this ad severely miscalculates how disgusting it is, and is rendered ineffective. People cannot get past the image of a young girl, the usual picture of innocence, killing an animal in a disturbing way, after having consumed chocolate.
This ad attempted to, and failed, to represent a dark humored “dark” side of sweetness; however, what is even more sad and dismaying about this ad is the true “dark” side of the chocolate industry. While ads such as the ones shown above by Caribu and Nestle joke about the sinful acts that chocolate induce, the chocolate industry is suddenly mute at the true sins of the industry regarding child labor practices. In the Cote D’Ivoire, where almost 40% of all cacao beans come from (Mammel), there is a strong prevalence of child labor, where children, 60% of whom are under the age of 14, are forced to toil on cacao farms by their families and “owners” whom their families sell them to. These children make no money, and are often given dangerous and gruesome tasks to do, such as wielding machetes with no protection or hauling bags of cacao for miles (Mammel).
With this truly dark side of chocolate in mind, we decided to rebrand our chocolate advertisement from showing (failed) dark humor to depict the true dark side of chocolate: child labor practices. In our revised ad, the true evils of the chocolate industry are revealed; when the children eat chocolate, they are now directly contributing to the child labor present in the chocolate industry. Their lips are stained with red blood, and they are “whipping” the children laborers, who toil to make them their delicious sweets.
While our ad may not actually sell anything, it instead acts as a PSA for the real dark side of the chocolate industry. Instead of continuing to sell chocolate as a sexualized, passionate, and sometimes sinful delight, we hope with our PSA we can contribute to exposing the true evils of the chocolate industry, and close the gap of knowledge between the fantasy of marketing and advertisements, and the true hardships behind what we eat.
Bear | Heart | Kitten- Nestle Chocolate TV Commercial Ad. Youtube. Youtube, 14 Oct 2014. Web. 10 Apr 2015.
El Garaje Lowe. “Caribú Bitter: Canari.” Ads of the World. N.p., Jan. 2009. Web. 10 Apr. 2015.http://adsoftheworld.com/media/print/caribu_bitter_canari.
Mammel, Mitchell. “Child Slavery: The Bitter Truth behind the Chocolate Industry.” Terry. Nov 2013. Web. 10 Apr 2015. http://www.terry.ubc.ca/2013/11/26/child-slavery-the-bitter-truth-behind-the-chocolate-industry/.
Robertson, Emma. Chocolate, Women and Empire: A Social and Cultural History. Manchester: Manchester UP, 2009. 1-131. Print.