Over the past 125 years, the chocolate market has undergone a major revolution in both consumption and production. Producers radically altered the way they marketed their products as prices dropped, while consumers of chocolate simultaneously became a much more racially and socioeconomically diverse group (Coe and Coe 232). During the late 1800s and early 1900s, chocolate manufacturers’ advertisements largely focused on wealthy, white individuals. In the past three decades, commercials have begun to target a much wider audience by highlighting larger sets of diverse consumers or by using more generic imagery. Although likely a cause and effect of this transformation, the shift in marketing demonstrates the growing importance of a wide variety of consumers for major chocolate manufacturers.
During the nineteenth century, all parts of the chocolate industry experienced major upheaval. As argued by Sophie and Michael Coe, the substance became a “solid food of the masses” due to the “French Revolution…and the Industrial Revolution, which changed chocolate from a costly drink to a cheap food” (232). The inventions of the era wholly altered the production process and “lowered [chocolate’s] cost substantially” (Alberts and Cidell 220). By 1908, economists had already begun to trace the meteoric rise of chocolate industries in Europe, with a focus on Switzerland, which was the site of many of the innovations that lowered the cost of the food and, thus, widened its appeal (Farrer 111). As a result, individuals of diverse socioeconomic classes began to consume significantly larger amounts of chocolate (Coe and Coe 234).
While the early stages of this revolution in consumption progressed, manufacturers continued to target wealthy buyers who had previously dominated the market. Advertisements from the 1890s-1920s reflect this emphasis by depicting the upper classes in their marketing materials. In one Cadbury’s campaign from 1899, a group of six drink “afternoon cocoa” (“Cadbury’s Cocoa”).
Nearly every part of the image demonstrates the wealth of those depicted, from their stylish, colorful clothing, to their croquet equipment and fine china cups. A 1929 promotional image for Mars’s Milky Way bars also focuses on visibly rich subjects (“Milky Way”).
In this illustration, a well-dressed man and woman enjoy the candy. The man’s fashionable suit and overcoat, combined with the woman’s large fur jacket display their high socioeconomic status. By depicting the wealthy in their advertisements, each company demonstrated its focus on consumers who identify with these subjects, revealing their enduring importance to large chocolate manufacturers.
Today, chocolate marketers highlight a wider audience through more broad campaigns. In a 1986 advertisement for “Assorted” Hershey’s bags, a group of children with at least some discernable racial diversity are pictured under the header “If all kids were born alike, we’d only put one kind of candy in every bag” (“Hershey’s Assorted Miniatures”).
Although all of the children still appear well dressed, their varied clothing and lifestyles sharply contrast with the people from the aforementioned Cadbury’s and Mars’s ads. Unlike these earlier campaigns that focused on homogenous images of wealthy white people leisurely consuming chocolate, this image emphasizes diversity, illustrating the broader group targeted by the advertisement. The more varied group in the photo also demonstrates the increasing importance of a wide-ranging consumer base for Hershey’s chocolates, outside of the upper classes.
Cadbury’s more recent advertisements have used different tactics to reach their new target markets. Many of their promotional campaigns feature no people at all, and instead focus on slogans combined with stylized images of the product. In one such advertisement for Dairy Milk bars, the firm places the tagline “Have you tasted smooth and creamy lately?” over a large chocolate wave, with two glasses of milk being poured into the mixture, all surrounding an example of the bar (“Dairy Milk Chocolate”). By selling the product instead of a lifestyle enjoyed by a homogenous clientele, Cadbury’s can reach a much larger audience, reflecting their increasingly diverse group of buyers and how central this widespread appeal is for the company’s viability.
While this evolution of chocolate advertising both drove changes in consumption and responded to altered consumer behavior, the increasing prevalence of mass-targeted chocolate marketing campaigns indicates the importance of a more diverse customer base for manufacturers. Although it is nearly impossible to determine whether causality ran solely in one direction, advertising certainly demonstrates which buyers are important to the manufacturer. This shift in marketing, which accompanied the overall shift in chocolate consumption, illustrates how pervasive this transformation has been for the industry.
- ALBERTS, HEIKE C., and JULIE L. CIDELL. “Chocolate Consumption Manufacturing and Quality in Western Europe the United States.” Geography3 (2006): 218–226. Print.
- Cadbury’s Cocoa. N.p., 1899. Web. 9 Mar. 2016.
- Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. The True History of Chocolate. 3 edition. London: Thames & Hudson, 2013. Print.
- Dairy Milk Chocolate. N.p., 2014. Web. 9 Mar. 2016.
- Farrer, A. Muriel. “The Swiss Chocolate Industry.” The Economic Journal69 (1908): 110–114. JSTOR. Web.
- Hershey’s Assorted Miniatures. N.p., 1986. Web. 9 Mar. 2016.
- Milky Way. N.p., 1929. Web. 9 Mar. 2016.
- Norton, Marcy. “Tasting Empire: Chocolate and the European Internalization of Mesoamerican Aesthetics.” The American Historical Review3 (2006): 660–691. JSTOR. Web.