In the world of chocolate advertising, there are many problematic images that promote certain gender, race, ethnicity, and/or class stereotypes. Some images have become the norm when it comes to marketing chocolate such as the sexualized woman. This is one of the most ubiquitous tropes and this post will explore how women are used to sell chocolate and the potential consequences that this image has for society (such as promoting unhealthy relationships with food, body image, and sexuality).
Gender and Class
The above advertisement is a 2016 video ad from DOVE® Chocolate, which is a brand of chocolate from the Mars company. This is an ad for DOVE®’s new line of Fruit and Nut Blend chocolates; DOVE® invites consumers to “Revel in the pleasure of our…DOVE® Fruit and Nut Blends made with silky-smooth DOVE® dark chocolate…” (“DOVE® Story”). Throughout the advertisement, there is a Caucasian woman in a luxurious dress who appears to experience ecstasy from eating this chocolate. In many chocolate advertisements, we see these similar poses with the eyes closed, mouth ajar and head tilted back. Dr. Carla Martin has compiled images of these type of gendered ads, which one can view here. Furthermore, there is a scene of the woman holding a whip, perhaps making a subtle reference to sexual domination. With the slogan of “Choose Pleasure,” we see that DOVE® appears to be appealing to the sexual connotation of “pleasure.” This association of a sexualized women with chocolate is still pervasive and it has deep roots in chocolate advertising.
In the seventeenth century, chocolate houses were male-dominated. However, in the eighteenth century, there was a shift; chocolate consumption and production became feminised as it moved into the domestic sphere (Robertson 20). This resulted in the promotion of heterosexual romance narratives as well as the narcissistic female consumer (30). These themes are overt in the DOVE® ad where the main character is overcome by eating this chocolate. Furthermore, the sexual undertones mimic the projection of heterosexual yearnings and fantasies onto chocolate consumption (35). For example, the images of the dominatrix as well as the woman being chased by a horse may depict subtle sexual projections. All in all, these images are problematic because they show women’s identities becoming subsumed by their consumption habits and it forces a harmful and unidimensional character onto women in general (35).
Another important theme that comes from this advertisement is class, which is closely entwined with gender. DOVE® started as “DOVE® candy shop,” and was found by Leo Stefanos in the 1950s. At its inception, Stefanos focused on the purity of his chocolate and this focus on quality and purity was continued when Mars acquired DOVE® in 1986 (“DOVE® Story”). On DOVE®’s marketing website, Mars totes DOVE®’s “Chocolate Difference,” emphasizing its “silky smooth” and “rich taste unsurpassed by other bars” and its “highest standard of quality” (“DOVE® Chocolate Difference”). By emphasizing DOVE®’s quality, Mars seems to be targeting a certain upper/middle-class audience who would care about DOVE®’s “special roasting and grinding” and the minute differences in mouthfeel. This is certainly evident in the film advertisement where this woman portrays an upper-class and elite image. Her dresses are luxurious and silky, simultaneously indicating her access to wealth as well as the luxuriousness and silkiness of the chocolate product itself.
In the eighteenth century, as chocolate became feminised, it also “became associated with luxury and leisure in the domestic sphere” (Robertson 20). At the same time, industrial progress in the nineteenth century allowed chocolate and cocoa to become available for the working class. However, it was common for companies like Cadbury and Rowntree to appeal to upper middle-class women and men (26). By portraying an elegant, wealthy-looking woman, female consumers could “aspire to the romantic lifestyle of the leading character” (27). This appeal to a high-class woman also elevates a simple chocolate bar into an item of luxury and provides an avenue for upward social mobility (27). All of these factors help promote DOVE®’s image as a high quality product.
In order to push back on this advertisement, our group made a still image that addressed the issues listed above. Instead of using the sexual connotation of “pleasure,” we decided to define “pleasure” in different ways. For instance, for one person, “pleasure” could mean enjoying a meal with family members and finishing this meal with a piece of chocolate. Another example of pleasure may be relaxing and watching television after a long day of work. Furthermore, instead of just focusing on women, like many chocolate advertisements do, we also included men in our advertisement. By separating the sexual connotation of chocolate consumption that is often associated women, we hoped to avoid the trope of the narcissistic consumer and the heterosexual romance. Lastly, we found the advertisement to define an exclusive form of what the “high-class woman” is, so in order to make it more inclusive we included a mix of genders, ethnicities and activities. We thought that this could also broaden the market that this advertisement could appeal to.
Critically evaluating, deconstructing and pushing back on these advertisements are crucial because the mass influx of advertisements on a daily basis, particularly those that promote sexualized women, can have negative consequences for many. Studies have shown that adolescents’ views of sex and body image are largely shaped by marketing and that they often experience body image dissatisfaction after being exposed to sexualized advertisements (Parker et al.). An ad such as this could also have the potential to harm body image ideals by pushing a unidimensional idea of what “sexiness” and “luxury” are. Recently, there have been some positive effects of advertisement. For example, Dove Beauty’s campaign using models of many different shapes and colors increased their sales sevenfold by boosting female image satisfaction (Parker et al.). By being more skeptical of marketing tactics and being more knowledgeable, perhaps there can be a change in advertising techniques for chocolate and it could be a win-win for both the consumer and producer.
“The DOVE® Story.” DOVE® Chocolate. Web. 3 Apr. 2016.
“The DOVE® Chocolate Difference.” DOVE® Chocolate. Web. 3 Apr. 2016.
Martin, Carla. “Valentine’s Day: Women Being Seduced By Chocolate.” Bittersweet Notes. 14 Feb. 2012. Web. 3 Apr. 2016.
Parker, Stephen, Diana Haytko, and Charles Hermans. “The Marketing Of Body Image: A Cross-Cultural Comparison Of Gender Effects In The U.S. And China.” Journal of Business & Economics Research (JBER) 6.5 (2008). Web. 3 Apr. 2016.
Robertson, Emma. Chocolate, Women and Empire: A Social and Cultural History. Manchester: Manchester UP, 2009. Print.
Screen caps were taken from the video ad: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=55ysVbtoZZ8.