The most surprising thing about Godiva’s “diva” ad campaign isn’t the use of languid, elegant women to sell chocolate and target the female demographic. In fact, this aspirational campaign, which hopes to generate sales for small items such as individual chocolate bars and boxes of truffles, is just playing on old tropes that have long plagued chocolate advertising. Through its portrayal of upper-class, mostly light-skinned women sensually indulging in chocolate, these ads reinforce the intersection of luxury, chocolate consumption, and women’s sexuality, which must be examined for its perpetuation of problematic gendered and racial norms.
To begin with a bit of history: Godiva’s tactics are not surprising, but what may be surprising and ironic is that chocolate’s takeover of European drawing rooms was facilitated by upper-class women who brought chocolate drink recipes with them when they married into their husbands’ households—marking chocolate from its introduction as a drink reserved for the elite and wealthy (World Standards). In fact, it was not until technological innovation (conching, powdered cacoa, and transportation/storage advances) allowed chocolate to be made at a lower price point and more widely available to the working class. However, what is dismaying is how—even as chocolate became more democratic in its availability— chocolate ads continue to draw on the aristocratic, European segment of chocolate’s history. An 1870 trade card targeted at consumers (see media below) shows how chocolate was already being framed as a drink for white, upper-class, domestically-minded women. Future advertisements to follow would continue to “perpetuate western sexist and racist ideologies under a veneer of pleasurable consumption” (Robertson).
Even today, chocolate ads cannot seem to let go of the fixation on upper-class, white women in its advertising. A great example of this is Godiva’s “diva” ads. Of the five images I have been able to find, four of them are of white women and one of a light-skinned woman who may or may not be of European origin. This blog post will focus on this image in particular:
At the most basic surface level, the ad appeals to viewers with a beautiful model and can be interpreted simply as “Treat yourself to Godiva chocolate, you wonderful diva.” The clever tagline (“every woman is one part diva, much to the dismay of every man”) seems humorous and witty. In fact, the use of “diva,” usually reserved for famous female singers or actresses, seems to engage with gender perceptions by stating that “eating this chocolate can make you a diva, a female boss.” Taken at face value, the ad sums up to read “you can be a beautiful, powerful woman—and our chocolate will help you feel that way.” When Jacqueline Lenart, vice president of marketing at Godiva North America, was asked about the ads, she said, “inside every female is a diva,” showing how the ad was supposed to promote empowerment of the “every” woman (Cho).
But a deeper, contextualized reading of this ad undermines its supposed progressiveness: if this ad is supposed to promote the idea of a diva as an influential person, then why the need to bring in the dichotomy of heteronormativity with the tagline “much to the dismay of every man”? Suddenly, the viewer is slapped back into the reality that this diva, and women in general, are objects to be consumed by the heterosexual male gaze. To appeal to this male gaze, the model poses coyly, does not seem threatening in any way, and wears sheer clothing. In fact, this ad undermines its intended uplifting message (“women can be powerful divas”) by playing on stereotypes of gender roles and juxtaposing the powerful word “diva” with a submissive woman sensually inviting the viewer into her chocolate fantasy world. Rather than empowering or celebrating women, this ad merely repeats the idea that women and chocolate are both “markers of sexual excess” (Robertson).
In addition to the ad’s gendered component, the backdrop of this ad, although blurred, also draws on themes of class and privilege in order to entice viewers. The woman sits in front of brocade wallpaper and a large vase, marking her elegant, European tastes. Behind her are chandeliers dangling with crystals, signifying her upper-class privilege. Not only does this ad reinforce gender assumptions under the guise of promoting girl power, but it also subconsciously appeals to cultural markers of race and class that are associated with its chocolate. The diva in this ad campaign is very much a wealthy, privileged, and European flavor of woman.
To push back against this ad campaign, I created my own ad featuring RuPaul, a drag queen known for his campy show “RuPaul’s drag race.”
I believe RuPaul’s ad deconstructs the “diva” ad in several ways. First, as a black man with creole roots, RuPaul pushes back against the prevalence of beautiful white woman in chocolate ads. Additionally, RuPaul is known for his work ethic as a singer, an actor, and a drag queen—the opposite of the leisurely, upper-class women often featured in chocolate ads. Lastly, RuPaul absolutely destroys the gendered assumptions behind the “diva” ad. RuPaul’s drag costume is not intended to appeal to heterosexual men. In fact, the slogan “every woman is a diva, much to the dismay of every man,” actually makes more sense in this ad because heterosexual men might actually be intimidated by RuPaul’s aggressive pose, instead of being enticed by yet another sultry female model. RuPaul’s fluid gender performance also undercuts any gender assumptions that a viewer might have had about women and chocolate: RuPaul’s drag performances actively dismantle heteronormative gender roles in his performances, and RuPaul refers to himself as both a man and a woman.
In summary, the intersection of white female beauty, privilege, and chocolate products is nothing new. A close reading of chocolate ad campaigns can reveal the undercurrent of race and gender assumptions in our cultural conversation. RuPaul’s ads challenges the expectations of gender in society and pushes back against the gender and class dynamics that underly chocolate advertising. Instead of Godiva’s ad, which claim to celebrate women (but actually demotes them to sexualized objects and almost exclusively cites to European tastes), RuPaul’s diva ad utilizes an actual diva who is worthy of the title.
- Cho, Cynthia H. “Godiva Appeals to the Diva Within.” The Wall Street Journal. 13 Sept. 2004. http://www.wsj.com/articles/SB109502924679815780. Online.
- World Standards. “The World of Chocolate.” http://www.worldstandards.eu/chocolate%20-%20history.html. Online.
- Grivetti, Louise E. and Shapiro, Howard-Yana. Chocolate: History, Culture, and Heritage. Hoboken. 2009. Print.
- Robertson, Emma. “Chocolate, women and empire: A Social and Cultural History.” Manchester University Press, New York. 2010.
- Marketing and Advertising Chocolate Group. “Godiva appeals to women with “Diva” campaign.” http://files.coloribus.com/files/adsarchive/part_647/6476105/file/chocolate-everywoman-small-84618.jpg. Online.
- Brown, Kat. “Who is RuPaul? Meet the Queen (and King) of Drag Race.” The Telegraph. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/tvandradio/11633521/who-is-RuPaul-of-Drag-Race.html. Online.