The History of Chocolate Advertising: How Parenting got Involved and Big Chocolate Took Advantage

The buying power for the family pantry in the 20th century has historically rested with the mother. To get after that market, then, the candy makers of the 20th century went after the children’s sweet tooth by advertising to the mothers that would buy sweets for them. From being a cheap snack to a quick meal supplement to finally evolving into the sugar loaded evil we know today, the appeals companies made to moms are striking evidence of the dominant health and parenting practices and how they changed between 1900 and today. It was in this fashion that the chocolate companies could maintain and grow chocolate consumption through the century, even to today, where the average American consumes 22lbs of chocolate per year (Allen 28).

Before even the start of the 20th century, sugar generally was being consumed as a cheap and quick calorie boost. By the 1850s, sugar was a necessity in most British households. Households, and especially the women and children, were economically inclined to substitute away from more expensive and nutritious parts of meals for the quick calories from sugar instead (Mintz 148). The advertising of the time reflects this in showing chocolate or cocoa as an adequate substitute for a child’s meal despite the fact that we now realize that a nutritious meal and cocoa are not even in the same ballpark in terms of healthfulness (Mintz 186).

This early Cadbury ad featuring a small child lauds the benefits for her of a cup of cocoa

Despite today’s reality of chocolate’s health effects, the price tag and the calories it provided made it hard to resist meal supplements like Cadbury’s cocoa.

While the reputation of sugar and chocolate for being a cheap calorie boost hadn’t really gone away, it’s primary utility grew to be its ease in preparation and consumption. The quickness with which one could mix a cup of cocoa or hand a child a bar made it an attractive option for parents that suddenly found that they didn’t have as much time to make a family meal (Mintz 186). One can see this change in the rapid rise of prepared foods throughout the second half of the 19th century first half of the 20th (Goody 74). With chemical and technological advancements in the creation of processed or preserved foods as well as in the actual methodologies and containers used to preserve them, it became easier and more practical to get nutrition in the smallest amount of time possible (Goody 78). A large part of this is likely due to the entrance of more women into the workforce in later half of the 20th century. In war and peace times, chocolate and manufactured food products allowed mothers to put a “nutritious meal” on the table for their kids, even if their day would have prevented cooking a family meal.

Companies capitalized on this sentiment with advertising like this, featuring “a glass and a half” of milk in every bar

Even the government made it hard to deny the nutrition of milk chocolate bars, when the bars they gave to soldiers headed out on long missions were made of chocolate (Kawash).

Companies combined children, soldiers, and family to show the health virtues of chocolate bars in a truly “All American” Way

How then, did we get to today, when doctors, dentists, and other parents advise against overconsumption of chocolate and especially sugar? The health revolution was quick to pounce on sugar as yes, quick, but empty calories that would give your child (and you) diabetes and cavities (Albritton 342). As the adverse health effects of eating too much candy became the more prominent reputation of their products, candy advertisers had to react accordingly— children may still go into the chocolate aisle to purchase a chocolate bar but their health-conscious moms certainly wouldn’t. Chocolate and candy advertisers went about combatting this in two ways. The first was to start somewhat artificially limiting the overall sugar content of their products and started to market them as “reduced sugar” (Bailin, Goldman, and Phartiyal. 5-8).

This cereal box is a perfect example, where the health benefits of this breakfast are lauded on top and the “reduced sugar” banner is prominently displayed. Frosted Flakes still aren’t that good for you

The second way in which advertisers continued to go after parents’ conscious wallets was to return to sentimental advertising appeals (Nudd). This could be nostalgic, with a beloved theme song from a 1960s childhood, or offer up a piece of chocolate as a meaningful connection with a child.

Here, Mars has used nostalgia to both honor its history and make an appeal to new and older consumers with its 75th M&M anniversary ad, that feature a modern take on a classic song that was featured in an M&M advertisement as well as cuts of historical ads. Children can connect because of its modernity, but parents will connect with its history.

Hershey’s in particular has done a brilliant job capitalizing on the latter because of its reputation as “America’s candy bar”. Ads for Hershey’s chocolate may feature adorably animated chocolate kisses but end with the wrapped kiss given from parent to child.

Here, a recent Hershey’s ad uses the bond between father in daughter to sell Hershey’s chocolate as a way to spend quality time as a family in a busy world.

The transformation of these ads from print to video short is remarkable in of itself in terms of how consumers process information about the barrage of products in the world. But just as interesting is the feedback loop that is created when dominant attitudes about certain products (and the people that consume them) change. There was always a clear reason for eating sugar and chocolate—even if it was just because it was a sweet treat! Advertisers over time evaluated those reasons and found the best ways to get the candy addict in every child the sugar fix he or she needed by appealing to a parent’s nutrition needs for their child. Chocolate and sugar have mutated in the public mind from cheap calories to quick meal supplement to sweet indulgence without a lot of the actual chemical or procedural makeup changing over time. Ads from throughout the1900s to today tell a different story, however, one that almost seems to advertise three different products at three different times. Given that the product was, however, more or less the same, it is fair to conclude that the prevailing parenting and health attitudes on chocolate and sugar drove childhood sugar consumption and chocolate companies responded by routinely creating advertising that would appeal to those attitudes and keep sugar consumption growing.

Works Cited

Albritton, Robert. “Between Obesity and Hunger.” Coulihan, Carole and Penny van Estrik. Food and Culture. New York: Routledge, 2013.

Allen, Lawrence. Chocolate Fortunes. New York: Amacon, 2010.

Bailin, Deborah, Gretchen Goldman and Pallavi Phartiyal. Sugar-coating Science. May 2014. UCSUSA. 9 March 2016 <>.

Goody, Jack. “Industrial Food.” Counihan, Carole and Penny van Esterik. Food and Culture. New York: Routledge, 2013.

Kawash, Samira. Candy and Corn: “Rich in Dextrose”. 24 September 2010. 9 March 2016 <;.

Mintz, Sidney. Sweetness and Power. New York: Penguin, 1985.

Nudd, Tim. M&M’s UNveils 75th Anniversary Spot Featuring Zedd and Aloe Blacc’s ‘Candyman’. 29 February 2016. 9 March 2016 < >.

Image Sources:>ruth.jpg?w=455

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