Women and Social Climbing through the Consumption of Chocolate

In the fall of 2004, Godiva chocolates launched a “Diva” campaign that aimed to re-focus their target from 35-55 year old women to the young (read: 20s) and affluent female consumer. The campaign series featured society women — primarily white or light-featured and extremely wealthy — indulging on chocolate in the home in a manner fitting of high-maintenance, diva behavior. The set of advertisements is representative of the problematic way chocolate corporations have historically positioned consumption as a vehicle for women’s social aspiration. Although the campaign claimed that the photographs were meant to be transformative and trendy, the historical context surrounding chocolate advertising informs us that these tropes are, in fact, quite tired. As this essay illustrates, these “divas” reinforce notions of social climbing through the attainment of luxury and elite goods – a formula which is necessarily embedded in specific gendered, raced, and cultured performances of exclusion. In this essay, I examine the tropes employed in Godiva’s diva campaign, focusing in particular on gender, and parody its message with both an original advertisement featuring a male and with the images of the multidimensional African women featured in Divine Chocolate’s adverts.

In the following Godiva advertisement, a blonde young woman coyly eats chocolate in a luxurious home. Her clothing resembles sleepwear and her tousled hair and seductive looks suggest she’s either getting out of or into bed. The advert reads “Every woman is one part (Go)Diva much to the dismay of every man.” In an Adweek profile of the campaign, a Godiva spokeswoman positioned the advertisement as a new strategy to reach women’s “inner-divas” and to “cut across generation lines, appealing to all women who balance long work hours with other responsibilities” (Zammit). However, the image fails to include any indication of long hours, responsibility or empowerment – instead, it reinforces Western stereotypes of spoiled, megalomaniac housewives whose consumption of chocolate is representative of their leisurely lives as a male companion. The woman’s diva behavior “dismays” her presumably more rational male partner. The domestic setting goes against any notion of a hardworking, cross-generational woman. She has the money and leisure time to enjoy fine chocolate in bed, and she is showing it off.

Photograph from Godiva, 2004. Source: http://media260chocolate.qwriting.qc.cuny.edu/2014/03/03/godiva-appeals-to-women-with-diva-campaign/
Photograph from Godiva, 2004. Source: http://media260chocolate.qwriting.qc.cuny.edu/2014/03/03/godiva-appeals-to-women-with-diva-campaign/

There’s nothing novel about this image. As Emma Robertson argues in Chocolate, Women, and Empire, chocolate adverts have long “perpetuated western sexist and racist ideologies under a veneer of pleasurable consumption (Robertson 10).” She describes how throughout the 20th century English chocolate company Rowntree produced advertisements that positioned cocoa at the center of class and gender dynamics. Specifically, they illustrated the aspirational middle class family as one in which white, well-dressed “daughters attempt to bake and clean…while sons try to polish their father’s shoes (Robertson 21). Chocolate marketing reinforced the idea that a woman’s place was in the home. Even at a young age, girls performed menial house labor while their brothers helped their fathers before work. In advertisements of adult women, Rowntree continued to separate the sexes. In an advert for their Black Magic line, a painting of a woman horseback riding was accompanied by a letter written to her friend which read, “Out with the hounds yesterday, and had a grand run. My new mare is a marvel!” At the bottom, the company notes, “Black Magic are the wonderful chocolates which Society is preferring.” Godiva’s 2004 campaign carefully associated their chocolates with the white and wealthy, just as Rowntree had associated theirs with successful white families and horse-riding women. For decades, chocolate marketing has sent women a clear message – consumption of our chocolates is a sign of elite status. This message has two effects; the first, to promote consumption (as opposed to career or personal ambition) as a woman’s primary source of self-esteem, and the second, to construct an image of self worth that is exclusive to the white, straight, and uber wealthy.

I parodied these notions with the following advertisement of a wealthy, white man consuming chocolate. He, too, is dressed lavishly, seated by a grand fireplace as he gazes sensually at the viewer. The tagline reads, “Every man is one part God(iva) much to the pleasure of every woman.” The photograph is meant to feel absurd and unfamiliar, despite its obvious parallels to the original. Western viewership is unaccustomed to advertising that equates white male worth with consumption and domesticity; we typically look for signs that the man is entrepreneurial and dominant. Without those elements, we leave the male emasculated and foolish and we discover that the very tropes we employ to empower women are the every traits that apparently separate them from industrious and independent men.

Unique image created with the following sources: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bournville_(chocolate_bar); http://www.corbisimages.com/stock-photo/rights-managed/42-22330138/wealthy-man-smoking-a-cigar
Unique image created with the following sources: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bournville_(chocolate_bar); http://www.corbisimages.com/stock-photo/rights-managed/42-22330138/wealthy-man-smoking-a-cigar
Screen Shot 2015-04-13 at 7.31.00 PM
Reproduction of a 2005 Divine Chocolate Campaign. Leissle, 2012.

As discussed in Kristy Leissle’s article “Cosmopolitan Cocoa Farmers,” the Divine Chocolate brand has flipped these stereotypes, not only in their marketing but also through their labor relations. Their 2005 ad campaign featured female Ghanaian cacao farmers who were at once part owners of the chocolate company and also its models. The African women were photographed standing independently with the chocolate they produced. They appeared empowered, attractive, and knowledgeable in front of the natural background of their agricultural economy and workplace (Leissle 126). We are reminded that women of any race are not simply male companions and consumers – they’re creators and market innovators whose sense of self worth can be derived from as many sources as a man’s. These are the role models young women should aspire to, and these are the cross-cultural and generational images that Godiva and other companies should adopt if they truly want to push the bounds of their appeal.

Works Cited

Leissle, Kristy.“Cosmopolitan cocoa farmers: refashioning Africa in Divine Chocolate advertisements.” Journal of African Cultural Studies 24, no. 2 (2012): 121-139

Robertson, Emma. Chocolate, Women and Empire: A Social and Cultural History. Manchester, UK: Manchester University Press, 2009.

Zammit, Deana. “Chocolate Meets Fashion in New Godiva Effort.” Adweek, September 13, 2004. Accessed April 11, 2015. http://www.adweek.com/news/advertising/chocolate-meets-fashion-new-godiva-effort-74786

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