The Power of Gendered Advertising & Marketing in Chocolate Sales

Though it was customary to consume cacao as a beverage until the mid-19th century, advances made during the Industrial Revolution resulted in a marked shift from cacao beverages to solid chocolate consumption in Europe and North America. Thanks to innovators such as Coenraad Johannes Van Houten and Joseph Fry, cacao was no longer a product simply for the aristocracy; liquid chocolate—though still available in the form of cocoa—became rather antiquated (Swisher 177). Instead, newly produced chocolate candy bars (and an increase in cacao importation from West Africa) cheapened the price of chocolate and made it readily available to consumers from all levels of the economic spectrum (Coe & Coe 197). It was easier to manufacture, easier to transport, and easier to consume; and with the new technological developments in graphic arts and commercial advertising, companies were able to mass-market their products to a larger consumer pool than ever before (Swisher 177).

The new and profitable industry of chocolate candy bars prompted the establishment of chocolate manufacturing companies on a much larger scale. As with all products of mass-consumption, this new capitalist venture incited a wide-variety of marketing schemes to promote cacao purchases in its many forms (Coe & Coe 239). These advertisements targeted men, women and children in different manners. Of particular interest is the approach in which chocolate and cocoa were promoted to the male populous, as the method drew remarkable parallels to the usage of cacao by men of the ancient Aztec civilization of Mesoamerica.


aztec warrior depiction
Aztec warriors, as depicted above in the Codex Mendoza, would consume cacao for strength and energy.


Shown in the form of posters, chocolate advertisements touched upon aspects of both lifestyle and values; they were carefully crafted to evoke certain societal associations from both sexes (Swisher 178). They also addressed varying scandals of the time, such as chocolate modification and adulteration by many reputable manufacturers. As this information came to light, the scandal spurred the “pure chocolate” movement by companies in hopes of regaining the public’s trust (Coe & Coe 243). A prime example of gendered advertising can be found in the Cadbury cocoa poster below, depicting a firefighter dressed in full regalia drinking a saucer of hot cocoa. The text reads, “Cadbury’s cocoa makes strong men stronger,” promising that their product is indeed “the most refreshing, nutritious and sustaining of all cocoas.”


Cadburys Cocoa Advert


This masculine depiction is reminiscent of the ancient Aztec utilization of cacao as an energizer, strengthener, and stimulant; after all, their warriors would reap the benefits of cacao as they prepared for battle (Coe & Coe 73). Chocolate as a reinforcer of masculinity was an excellent marketing tool to bolster sales by men, though women were the most profitable target group for chocolate purchases (as they were responsible for both maintaining the home and caring for their children) (Ross 37). The same principle held true during World War II, when Nestle advertised their chocolate as a “fighting food,” able to provide “maximum nourishment” to the U.S. Army fighting overseas. They even compared energy values of chocolate versus lamb, milk, and eggs!



Nestle WWII


In a more light-hearted tone, another instance of Cadbury’s male-catered marketing is the following advertisement from 1888, illustrating the Bourneville FC rugby team at play, once again promoting the “strength and staying power” of their cocoa.


Cadbury rugby


Featured in The Illustrated London News, the advertisement painted cocoa as a 19th century Gatorade of sorts; instead of “REHYDRATE, REPLENISH, REFUEL™,” Cadbury’s opted for a similar (albeit more illustrative) promotion: “SUSTAINS AGAINST FATIGUE. INCREASES MUSCULAR STRENGTH. GIVES PHYSICAL ENDURANCE AND STAYING POWER.” The energetic properties of these beverages, whether hot cocoa or sports drinks, are marketed in similar fashions. Even 19th century advertisers knew the strength of a great tagline!

These are but a few examples of the gendered advertisements of those periods. As the chocolate business ballooned into the mammoth industry it is today, marketing continued to engage men as customers both for personal consumption and as gifts for their significant others. As pictured in the following mid-20th century Whitman’s advertisement below, chocolate has become a staple for all types of events. Public perception of chocolate as a gift from a man to a woman is now commonplace—expected even—as the commercial focus of holidays such as Valentine’s Day have blossomed into true consumer extravaganzas.


Whitmans sampler


While cacao has certainly gone through many transformations and iterations from the time of the Olmecs, its significance in societal structures has never diminished. If anything, cacao has managed to adapt to serve countless purposes throughout the centuries. With the ever-growing demand for sweet confections, chocolate manufacturers continue to find even more interesting, engaging, and even risqué ways to market their products (follow this link to the Telegraph’s article on the most memorable chocolate advertisements)—at least they keep us interested, right?




Works Cited

Cadbury’s Cocoa Advertisement. Early 20th Century. Poster print.

Cadbury’s Cocoa Rugby Advert, Bourneville FC at Play. 1888. Poster print.

Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. The True History of Chocolate. New York: Thames and Hudson, 2013. Print.

Grivetti, Louis Evan, and Howard-Yana Shapiro. Chocolate: History, Culture and Heritage. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, 2009. Print.

Nestle’s Chocolate Advertisement, World War II. 1940’s. Poster print.

Prohaska, Ray. Color Print Ad for the Whitman’s Sample, a Product by Stephen

  1. Whitman and Son, Inc. of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.1942. Poster print.

Ross, Michael L. Designing Fictions: Literature Confronts Advertising. Print.


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