The allure of cacao and the lure of its profits have been felt throughout its history, from Mesoamerica to modern day. It is the drink of royalty, the food of the common people, and the foundation of economies and personal fortunes. Cocoa and chocolate are a part of everyday life for many people across countries, and the marketing and advertising world has not only made a note of this, they have made it part of their portfolio. From healthy chocolate to over the counter medication, from incredibly expensive artisan chocolate to inexpensive treats, and from body spray to diamonds, chocolate is everywhere when you simply pay attention. How has it become so prevalent? The marketing of chocolate over the years is one of the main reasons chocolate is as omnipresent as it is today. In the United States specifically, chocolate’s historical and problematic advertising practices, including sexism, classism, racism, and the over sexualization of women are so integrated into the country’s consumer consciousness that these patterns are now being remixed, recycled and regurgitated by companies looking to profit from the universal appeal of chocolate with an added dash of nostalgia. By involving chocolate in some form, manufacturers and advertisers are trying to add a level of comfort, luxury and value that is inferred by the general public, even when it is wrapped in a not so attractive package.
By connecting chocolate advertising to other long standing advertising devices, such as body image, weight issues and general health, new products and companies build marketing strategies around patterns familiar to the general public. ‘Healthy’ chocolate overlaps body image, weight control and the desire for chocolate. The addition of marketing buzz words like ‘superfoods’ and ‘phytonutrients’ increase the common person’s buy in that this product is good for you, even though the fine print usually says that none of the health claims are verified by the Food and Drug Administration. Companies selling ‘healthy’ chocolate such as Aloha Chocolate (https://aloha.com/shop/superfood-chocolate), and Xoçai (http://xocai.xocaistore.com) have appeared in the marketplace to fill the created niche. Both products’ marketing says that their chocolate is high in antioxidants, low in sugar, and nutritious. The flip side of ‘healthy’ chocolate coin is chocolate for health, products that use chocolate as a vehicle for supplements or over the counter medicines. Mars, Inc. has created the CocoaVia® cocoa extract supplements through the Mars Symbioscience (http://www.marssymbioscience.com/about-us) company segment that creates consumer products based on ideas generate throughout Mars, Inc. CocoaVia® was created from an idea that came from research done by the Mars Center for Cocoa Health Science (http://www.marscocoascience.com/). The website (http://www.cocoavia.com) fills a lot of space on each page about how cocoa flavenols are good for you and how a new patented cocoa extract process preserves and provides the most flavenols for the supplement. All of the ‘healthy’ chocolate and chocolate for health brands mentioned reflect the inherent classism present in chocolate advertising, because the products would be too expensive for the lower class, and even some middle class consumers would have to choose between spending extra funds on them instead of other essential and non-essential items.
Another chocolate for health product is Dr. Cocoa®, a line of over the counter children’s cough and cold medications launched in 2014. The company uses the ingredient real cocoa as a method to get children to take medication, taking a page from the book of a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down. The FDA approved medications have been combined with 10% real cocoa and other ingredients for a “rich, soothing, chocolate taste” (http://drcocoa.com/about/).
The cute packaging with the cartoon owl is reminiscent of animated cocoa and chocolate candy advertisements. The product does not make any statements that the real cocoa adds health benefits, just flavor.
Inedible products are also tapping into chocolate’s fountain of appeal. One of the most expensive products in this category has candy coated an unpalatable gemstone color with a layer of much more appealing chocolate. Brown diamonds, which are “the most widespread colored diamonds. They were used only a few years ago almost exclusively for industrial purposes, now they are invading the [gem] market” (MinBlog) have entered the marketplace on a wave of glossy chocolate. Brown diamonds are classified by their color, which ranges from the lightest shade of brown, champagne, to the darkest shade, coffee.
The most well-known purveyor of brown diamonds, the Le Vian® Corporation, “branded Chocolate Diamonds® in 2000 and achieved registration by 2008 and now enjoys worldwide trademark registration and rights” (Stewart). Le Vian® has bound together in the minds of consumers the two products and made them much more marketable to the public, even though the gems themselves have not increased significantly in value. As seen in the below commercial “the Kiss”, Le Vian® has put forward that the gift of a Chocolate Diamond® is the way to a woman’s…heart.
The commercial recycles some of the most sexist tropes of chocolate advertising. The way the woman’s libido is fired by the chocolate (diamonds), and the way that, after she kisses her man, her lips are coated to overflowing in dark, luscious chocolate, are both repetitive themes in chocolate advertising. The implication that a woman and her favors can be bought with some form of chocolate is something that we have all seen before. Jewelry stores that carry the line, however, have been moving away from the ‘he bought her’ framework and have created marketing specifically around women buying their own jewelry. These new commercials, however, continue the ‘women can’t resist chocolate’ and ‘buy yourself a nonfattening treat’ tropes. Again, the pricing of the jewelry is out of range for many people, and the commercials feature predominantly white customers, with the only people of color presented as the sales people.
The inescapable advertising of chocolate in the U.S. has set up a rocky foundation for other commodities to build on. As the consumer public provides feedback to chocolate companies that their advertising is problematic, whether its from issues of race, gender, class, etc., the tropes just move on to the next product campaign. Are the same companies or individuals responsible for the repurposing of old ideas? What are the policies involved, if any, in the reinforcement of negative media images of women and people of color? Or is any publicity is good publicity the modus operandi? Future research into the marketing companies who help create the campaigns needs to be done.
Carla Martin. AAAS E-119. Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food. Lecture 9. “Issues in Advertisement”. April 1, 2015.
Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. The True History of Chocolate. New York: Thames and Hudson, 1996. Print.
N/A “Color in Diamonds.” MinBlog, the blog of the Mineral Sciences staff of the National History Museum of Los Angeles County. 21 Jan 2013. Web. 15 May 2015 http://nhminsci.blogspot.com/2013/01/color-in-diamonds.html
Stewart, Dodai. “The Truth About Chocolate Diamonds.” Jezebel. 13 Feb 2013. Web. 15 May 2015. http://jezebel.com/the-truth-about-chocolate-diamonds-5887100
Le Vian®. “Kiss” TV Commercial. YouTube. 01 Oct 2013. Web. 15 May 2015. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3_fT1ZCln2Q
Cover photo. Dr.Cocoa Facebook page. 26 Feb 2014. Web. 16 May 2015 https://scontent-lga.xx.fbcdn.net/hphotos-xtp1/v/t1.0-9/1924806_830680147003397_2927372854384106797_n.jpg?oh=00f7b21b29b97857d1504e322e96c59c&oe=55C1FCA2
Picture 2 “Color in Diamonds.” MinBlog, the blog of the Mineral Sciences staff of the National History Museum of Los Angeles County. 21 Jan 2013. Web. 15 May 2015 http://nhminsci.blogspot.com/2013/01/color-in-diamonds.html