Dreams and Divas

Four years ago, Cadbury’s promotion of their new line of Dairy Milk Bliss bars resulted in some unintended blowback. The advertisement in question (Figure 1), challenges British actress and model Naomi Campbell as an inferior competitor to the aforementioned confection. Unsurprisingly, this comparison sparked outrage, as the ad attempting at whimsy was overshadowed by racialization and the objectification of women. Cadbury’s intention was likely to use the advertisement to emphasize the Bliss bar’s luxurious appeal: the bar is “the world’s most pampered,” and the package is resting on a bed of diamonds. This representation of the product as a luxury good brings with it a host of classist undertones, but perhaps more subtly plays off of the chocolate industry’s treatment of women. Emma Robertson describes this trend in Chocolate, women, and empire: “women as consumers of chocolate have historically been depicted as obsessed by the product… Women’s identities may thus become subsumed by their consumption habits,” which are typically seen to be “constructed as constantly negotiating temptation.” (35) Cadbury preys upon this assumed weakness, urging potential consumers to give in to their temptations and allow themselves to be, like the Bliss bar, pampered.

Figure 1: Controversial Cadbury Bliss ad, “featuring” Naomi Campbell

Far less subtle than the sexist implications of pampering, though, are the racial implications of Naomi Campbell’s calling out. By suggesting that a bar of chocolate will usurp Campbell’s position of fame, Cadbury simultaneously objectifies her by pulling her to the level of a confection and racializes her – of all the models and actresses in Britain, Cadbury chose a person of color to equate with chocolate. Campbell made public her distaste for the ad’s reduction of her humanity to a colored confection, stating “it’s upsetting to be described as chocolate, not just for me, but for all black women and black people as a race,”(qtd. in Duke).

In an attempt to avoid the same pitfalls as the original advertisement, a slight modification was made to yield the image depicted in Figure 2. Simply replace Naomi’s name with a fictional character – Mr. Sandman – and describing the chocolate as dreamy rather than pampered addresses the sexist and racist undertones of Cadbury’s initial design. The “dreamy” modifier comes straight form the product’s package, and removes the insinuation of a succumbing to desire and replaces in its stead a notion of fantastical enjoyment. Comparing the chocolate’s role as an agent of dream-making to the mythical Mr. Sandman recasts the victim of objectification as a fictional character – a raceless one, at that – dodging the obvious pitfall of equating a person of color with chocolate while removing entirely the need to compare a human being to a snack. Regardless of the quality of snack, that comparison will yield some manner of offense.

Figure 2: Modified Cadbury advertisement, now featuring Mr. Sandman
Figure 2: Modified Cadbury advertisement, now featuring Mr. Sandman

However, avoiding race entirely is not the only way to (relatively) safely handle the issue in advertising. Indeed, the approach taken by Divine Chocolate – the embracing of race – may be employed to directly counter the more derogatory tendencies of mainstream media. As Kristy Leissle summarizes in her article “Cosmopolitan Cocoa Farmers: refashioning Africa in Divine Chocolate advertisements,” “the Divine Chocolate advertisements make a bold break with such anachronistic representations [i.e. visions of Africa seen through a Colonial-era lens], as the visual and textual elements put forth Ghanaian women farmers as cosmopolitan participants in transnational trade exchanges.” (127-128) These women are not being objectified, nor is the color of their skin being used as a crude metaphor for the product being peddled; instead, they are touted as integral agents of the cacao trade, and the contemporary agricultural context of their work (as opposed to antiquated, virtually savage depictions) is celebrated.

Duke, Alan. “Chocolate ‘diva’ ad hurts, supermodel Naomi Campbell complains.” CNN. n.p., 1 June 2011. Web. 10 April 2015.

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

Robertson, Emma. Chocolate, women, and empire: A social and cultural history. Manchester: Manchester University Press. 2009.

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