But Who Actually Gets It?: The Consumer-Producer Disparity in Advertising Representation

In the world of chocolate sales, advertising is everything. Companies try to develop brand loyalty through customers who will promote their chocolate effectively from “cradle to grave” (Martin Lecture 13). The problem with such chocolate ads as that shown below for Nutella is not just that they posit the idea of chocolate being universally desired – which, though not the case, is perhaps justifiable given that this is after all advertising  – but that they gives the implication that this product is available and accessible to everyone, ignoring the state of affairs in many of the places where cocoa is grown. For example, Africa produces 75% of the world’s cacao but only consumes 3% of its chocolate (Martin Lecture 14). Essentially, this advertisement is part of a trend that focuses exclusively on the consumer and their experience, because those are the people buying their products and in order to sell chocolate the companies want consumers to be able to put themselves into the shoes of those they see eating chocolate in the ads. Furthermore, through this manner the companies are also able to avoid addressing issues of sourcing which could potentially harm their sales if consumers see the direct connection between any unethical practices they might be involved in and the food they are purchasing.1 In contrast, the ad we created in response is not promoting any particular company, but rather is simply meant to draw attention to those who make the production of chocolate possible yet often take little share of the profits, and in many cases work under harsh conditions – the cocoa farmers in West Africa. In focusing on the state of the producers rather than the contentment of the consumers, our ad places itself within a growing trend of concern about ethical chocolate sourcing. Thus it is a reflection of much of the conversation regarding chocolate today.

An advertisement for Nutella chocolate hazelnut spread that portrays the desires and experiences of the consumer.
An advertisement for Nutella chocolate hazelnut spread that portrays the desires and experiences of the consumer.

Created by graphic designer college student Chee Aki in Ha Noi, Vietnam in June of 2011, the original advertisement displays a girl with Nutella chocolate hazelnut spread smearing around her mouth and a jar of Nutella balanced on her head (Aki). The girl appears to  be relatively young, with a backpack hanging off of one shoulder – likely a high school or college student.  Though the girl depicted does not look overly model-like, nevertheless we see her sexualized in a way that we have seen in many other chocolate advertisements that include women, portraying the idea that women have urges and cannot control themselves around chocolate (Robertson 35). Advertising can be said to be fundamentally based on imagination – when viewing someone on screen thoroughly enjoying a bite of chocolate, it is the fact that we can imagine ourselves in their place that makes our mouth water in anticipation of also eating that chocolate. The purpose of this advertisement therefore appears to be to promote the idea of eating of chocolate as very desirable, so viewers of the ad can imagine themselves in the place of the girl depicted and then hopefully buy chocolate to satisfy the resultant cravings. It “ignores the history behind the creation of what is now known as ‘chocolate’ from the cocoa bean….[instead it taps] into popular western understandings of the commodity as luxurious, hedonistic and sensual” (Robertson 3). Though there is no full narrative arc depicted, the emotions played on by this advertisement are those related to desire, fully centered on the consumer experience.

Such a portrayal – and especially the words “everyone wants it” – can be seen as problematic as they imply not just that the product is universally desired, but in a way also that it could be seen as universally accessible, when in fact we know that to not be true. Taking Nutella as an example, while the cocoa used for the product is produced and supplied from Nigeria, there are no factories or main sales offices anywhere near the West Africa region, suggesting that the product is perhaps limited in its availability there (Ferdman).

This map of the global value chain of Nutella shows the disparity and uneven distribution between where the cocoa is produced and supplied from and where it is processed and sold.

To push back against the Nutella advertisement, we created an image that draws focus to the cocoa producers unacknowledged in and not targeted by the first advertisement. Using an image produced by Nutella itself of the world’s continents made out of bread and coated with the chocolate spread – again problematic as it implies Nutella is equally present throughout the world – we placed images of West African cocoa farmers in that region on the map, to draw attention to their role. While some of the portrayed workers appear content, if not perhaps particularly wealthy, we also have an image of a child identified by Henrik Ipsen and the Huffington Post to be a child slave forced to work in cocoa production, and through this we highlight the worst problems with the cocoa supply chain (Gregory). In answer to the problematic statement from the original advertisement, “everyone wants it,” we reply with the follow up question “but who actually gets it?,” again underlining the production, consumption, and overall economic disparity between those who make cocoa and those who get to eat it. We created an ad that supports wider acknowledgement of these issues and, we hope, would help inspire action against them.

Our advertisement drawing attention to the producers of raw cocoa, including those who are child slaves
Zoomed-in version of our advertisement
Zoomed-in version of our advertisement

Luckily, there has in recent years especially been increasing focus on these producers and the issues with the current supply chain, though often outside of the big chocolate companies, and our advertisement is therefore part of this trend (Martin Lecture 18). One interesting and perhaps unconventional example of this is the work done by the Harry Potter Alliance (HPA), an activist group working against human rights violations. As recently as this past December 2014, after four years of campaigning they succeeded in having Warner Brothers, the company that produces Harry Potter chocolate products, announce that they would make all of those products with UTZ or Fair Trade certified cocoa (Rosenberg). Their campaign video here shows similar representations of forced child labor to what we see in our advertisement, and therefore is also part of the growing trend that takes a critical look at cocoa sourcing.

This video was part of the Harry Potter Alliance’s campaign for Warner Brothers to use ethically sourced cocoa in their Harry Potter chocolate products.

We certainly see increased focus on the producers and their well-being as a positive shift – however, this does not come without any further issues. Though the HPA’s campaign is an example of consumer-driven activism, and though “studies indicate that more U.S. consumers would be willing to purchase products at a premium if they were aware of the child labor concerns at stake in the supply chain” (Baradaran and Barclay),  there are many different actors who could take up the mantel, so picking who should represent these issues can be difficult – there is pressure for regulation by law, the companies, and/or the industry itself (Martin Lecture 18). Furthermore, there are critiques with this countermovement in so much as that some certifications such as Fair Trade, for example, may help eliminate some of the worst forms of child slavery but may not actually end up alleviating the more widespread problems of poverty in cocoa-producing regions (Martin 18). This, then, is a problem that stems from our current advertisement – drawing attention to the issues is certainly necessary, but there is still much to do in moving forward. Overall, though, pushing against the mainstream trend of focusing on consumers and their experience alone is one which will hopefully move the cocoa supply chain and industry as a whole in the right direction.

  1. Although this is a possible explanation, I don’t think it is as strong as the one I am advancing so I will not be dealing with it in this post, but anyone interested in the relations of big chocolate to labor issues can look at http://johnrobbins.info/blog/is-there-slavery-in-your-chocolate/ and http://www.terry.ubc.ca/2013/11/26/child-slavery-the-bitter-truth-behind-the-chocolate-industry/, among other sources. From these, we see that chocolate companies have been against regulations that would force them to have to label their chocolate fair trade, as they would largely be unable to comply and therefore their product might be seen as tainted by conscientious consumers.


Baradaran, Shima, and Stephanie Barclay. “Fair Trade and Child Labor.” Columbia Human Rights Law Review 43.1 (2011). Web. <http://www3.law.columbia.edu/hrlr/hrlr_journal/43.1/Baradaran_Barclay.pdf>.

Ferdman, Roberto A. “A Map of All the Countries That Contribute to a Single Jar of Nutella.” Quartz. 11 Dec. 2013. Web. <http://qz.com/156163/a-map-of-all-the-countries-that-contribute-to-a-single-jar-of-nutella/>

Martin, Carla. AAAS 119x Lecture 13: The rise of big chocolate and the race for the global market. 11 Mar. 2015.

Martin, Carla. AAAS 119x Lecture 14: Exploiters or Exploited? Cocoa Production in West Africa. 23 Mar. 2015.

Martin, Carla. AAAS 119x Lecture 18: Alternative Trade and Virtuous Localization/Globalization. 6 Apr. 2015.

Robertson, Emma. Chocolate, Women and Empire: A Social and Cultural History. Manchester: Manchester UP, 2009. Print.

Rosenberg, Alyssa. “How ‘Harry Potter’ Fans Won a Four-year Fight against Child Slavery.” Washington Post. The Washington Post, 13 Jan. 2015. Web. <http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/act-four/wp/2015/01/13/how-harry-potter-fans-won-a-four-year-fight-against-child-slavery/>.

“Not In Harry’s Name.” YouTube. YouTube, 29 Jan. 2012. Web. <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UFNkz-EUDVI&gt;.

“Nutella Is Turning 50 in 2014.” Nutella® Stories. Nutella, 2014. Web.<http://www.nutellastories.com/en_US/>

Images (In order of appearance)

Aki, Chee. “Nutella Advertising.” Behance. Adobe Systems Incorporated, 4 June 2011. Web. <https://www.behance.net/gallery/1561757/Nutella-advertising>.

Ferdman, Roberto A. “A Map of All the Countries That Contribute to a Single Jar of Nutella.” Quartz. 11 Dec. 2013. Web. <http://qz.com/156163/a-map-of-all-the-countries-that-contribute-to-a-single-jar-of-nutella/>

To create our own advertisement:

“Nutella Is Turning 50 in 2014.” Nutella® Stories. Nutella, 2014. Web. <http://www.nutellastories.com/en_US/>

“International Day of Rural Women.” The Frog Blog UK Ireland. Rainforest Alliance, 15 Oct. 2013. Web. <http://thefrogblog.org.uk/2013/10/15/international-day-of-rural-women/>.

Gregory, Amanda. “Chocolate and Child Slavery: Say No to Human Trafficking This Holiday Season.” The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com, 31 Oct. 2013. Web. <http://www.huffingtonpost.com/amanda-gregory/chocolate-and-child-slave_b_4181089.html>.

“Family Life.” The Story of Chocolate. National Confectioners Association’s Chocolate Council. Web. <http://www.thestoryofchocolate.com/Who/content.cfm?ItemNumber=3449&gt;.

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