Sex sells – it’s an idea entrenched in today’s marketing schemes, with companies adding sexual images and double entendres into advertisements for completely unrelated
products. Examples include this Arby’s poster, wherein the hamburger buns are clearly meant to represent barely-covered breasts and the tagline – “We’re about to reveal something you’ll really drool over” – stands as a blatant innuendo. There has been some pushback against this concept: this Forbes article highlights some of the controversies, especially over the extreme sexualization and objectification of women, surrounding this trend in areas like the fast food industry. Modern chocolate advertising, however, has received comparatively less attention, despite such themes being just as, if not more, pervasive. Ads are filled with images of pleasure, sensuality, and indulgence, essentially conflating chocolate with sex. The protagonists of such advertisements, including the one for Hershey’s Bliss Chocolate included below, are usually women, and these actresses and models are the ones to convey the physical gratification derived from chocolate. This heightened focus on the female body can play a dangerous role in shaping women’s self-image; a push back against the theme might thus take women out of the picture entirely and focus instead on the chocolate itself.
This Hershey’s ad, with its upbeat music and fully clothed women, seems like a relatively standard, unremarkable promotion – and that is why it’s a perfect demonstration of the deeply entrenched themes in chocolate marketing. One would see this commercial on TV and probably not spare it a second thought, and yet it hints at the sexism present in most chocolate advertising. All three models clearly enjoy the chocolate, and while their expressions of physical pleasure are not as exaggerated as in this ad for Cadbury’s Flake, where the water overflowing from the tub symbolizes erotic release:
the general idea is the same. The first woman, as shown in the screen cap (below left), closes her eyes in pleasure, savoring the bite of “creamy milk” chocolate. The second actress (below right) is more overt; her eyes are open, challenging and seductive, as she faces the camera and deliberately brings the chocolate to her lips. Both models have their lips parted to show a definite, sensual flash of teeth. The message is clear, even if the signs are subtle: chocolate induces pleasurable feelings, often comparable to sex, in these women, and can thus be expected to do the same for other consumers.
The Hershey’s ad also underlines how chocolate marketing is primarily directed at women. It shows three different actresses, with a fourth performing a voice-over, but no actors, implying that women, the intended consumers, have a special relationship with chocolate. Indeed, the trend of targeting women in chocolate advertising has its roots in history. Females have long been thought of as having a greater predilection for sugar than males; P. Morton Shand, writing of the origins of afternoon tea in Britain, called the tea “an excuse for the indulgence of a woman’s naturally sweet tooth” (Mintz 142). Chocolate is sweetened with sugar, making it an attractive treat, but it allegedly also has a special ability to invoke female obsession. As Emma Robertson articulates, “Chocolate has supposedly addictive properties which women are unable to resist” (Robertson 35). These “addictive properties” make it a constant temptation, one that women are expected to resist in order to keep to modern beauty standards. Giving in is thus seen as an indulgence, a “pleasurable surrender,” and chocolate ads play on this idea of guilty pleasure (Robertson 35). The Hershey’s commercial is no different: “Incredible indulgence,” it
promises, while the third model flashes a small smile at the camera (shown right). Her expression has a hint of surprise and playful guilt, as if she’s been caught doing something she shouldn’t. As Robertson notes, this idea of temptation and indulgence eventually comes back to sex: “Chocolate,” she writes, “offers a safe…and natural release of implicitly sexualized desires” (Robertson 35). Release of desires, yes, but as the Cadbury’s Flake ad, and the Hershey’s ad to a lesser extent, show, the implicit has become explicit in today’s marketing.
Modern chocolate ads seem to be selling sensuality as much as chocolate. They often feature close-ups of women with eyes closed and lips parted, as if experiencing a physical revelation. This focus on specific, erotically charged body parts is a form of objectification, and can in turn have detrimental effects on female self-image. The Counseling Psychologist article “Sexual Objectification of Women” notes that the practice “equates a woman’s worth with her body’s appearance and sexual functions” (Szymanski). It places the highest importance on looks rather than personality or mental health, and can thus be harmful to young women especially. To combat this trend, then, an ad might take the focus off the body, female or otherwise, entirely. This proposed ad, shown left, pushes
back against the idea of chocolate as an individual, privately erotic experience for women. It forgoes any gendered component by not showing a person, instead placing all attention on the wrapped pieces of chocolate (represented by the blue and pink squares). It keeps the name Hershey’s Bliss, but by removing any references to sex or indulgence, the bliss no longer has a connection to erotic pleasure. Also, by the wording “Share a moment,” eating chocolate becomes a communal activity. The focus is less on individual enjoyment and more on the joy of sharing what one likes with someone else. Where the original ad only appears innocent, subtly reinforcing pervasive themes of objectification and sexual pleasure, the proposed ad avoids the trend altogether. Rather than a replacement for sex, chocolate is allowed to be an enjoyable treat.
Mintz, Sidney W. Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History. Harmondsworth, Middlesex, England: Penguin, 1986. Print.
Robertson, Emma. Chocolate, Women and Empire: A Social and Cultural History. Manchester: Manchester UP, 2009. Print.
Szymanski, D. M., L. B. Moffitt, and E. R. Carr. “Sexual Objectification of Women: Advances to Theory and Research 1 7.” The Counseling Psychologist 39.1 (2010): 6-38. Web.
Arby’s Ad: “Does Sex Sell in Online Marketing?” SEO Training SW. 2013. Web. 07 Apr. 2016. <http://www.seotrainingsw.com/2013/07/sex-in-online-marketing/>.
Cadbury Ad: Cadbury’s. “Cadbury’s Flake 1991 Commercial, Featuring Rachel Brown.” YouTube. Web. 05 Apr. 2016. <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lMwMKJhaf7A>
Forbes Article: Dan, Avi. “Will This Powerful Video Stop Sexist Ads That Objectify Women?” Forbes. Forbes Magazine. Web. 07 Apr. 2016. <http://www.forbes.com/sites/avidan/2016/01/27/will-this-powerful-video-stop-sexist-ads-that-objectify-women/#34788f779a51>.
Hershey’s Bliss Ad: Hershey’s. “One Square Inch Hershey’s Bliss Chocolate TV Commercial.” Youtube. Web. 07 Apr. 2016. <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=__0VqVKQ5m8>