In today’s consumer driven world, it is nearly impossible to get through a day without seeing numerous advertisements for one thing or another. Companies hire marketing staff or contract marketing work out to advertising agencies with the sole purpose of strengthening their consumer base. Many advertisements in today’s market use racially or sexually charged imagery to sell the products in question. One industry where this practice is used frequently is the chocolate industry. While this usage is especially prevalent in ads for the Big Five and other large scale chocolate companies, smaller producers and fair-trade chocolatiers are not innocent of this practice. This post begins with a look at the use of race, gender, and sexuality in historical chocolate advertisements, then dives into an analysis of a recent ad campaign for Green & Black’s organic chocolate, and presents a redesign of one of the ads from that campaign that avoids these questionable subjects.
In the early 1900s, chocolate marketing was solely focused on attracting female consumers to their products. Early advertisements from both Rowentree’s and Cadbury’s have targeted upper-class women through their portrayal of the sophisticated nature of their cocoa (Robertson 26). After World War I, Cadbury’s depicted working women, while after World War II, Rowentree’s represented their target audience through imagery of wives and mothers enjoying Rowentree’s cocoa (24-25). Around this time, in the late 1940s, Rowentree’s introduced their new ‘spokespersons’ in the form of two racially stereotyped cartoon characters, ‘Little Coco’ and ‘Honeybunch’ (35). Each character illustrated several stereotypes of black individuals from Little Coco’s oversized head, baldness, and large facial features to Honeybunch’s bare feet, braids, and skinny legs (36). The use of such racially charged images, along with gender targeted and sexually suggestive motifs, has continued into current chocolate advertising.
In March of 2013, the advertising agency Mother released the ‘This Is Not A Chocolate Bar’ ad campaign crafted for Green & Black’s organic chocolate. This campaign sought to provide fitting personas for a handful of the different flavored chocolates offered by the company (“Green & Black’s”). Five of the six ads explored a single chocolate flavor, providing it with clever taglines touting its appeal to consumers – for example, butterscotch became “The Golden One,” while dark 70% became “The Deep One” (“Green & Black’s”). Each ad reflected these taglines in clever ways. The sixth and final ad presented a parade float carrying all of the available flavors, tagged as “The Diverse Set” (“Green & Black’s”). This analysis will focus on one of the two ads which depict chocolate personas of a particularly sexual nature.
The following ad portrays Green & Black’s Spiced Chilli chocolate bar as “The Exotic One” of the chocolate line. (The remaining five ads from the campaign are included at the end of this post for comparison.) Complete with platform stage and swinging nipple tassels, this developed persona is the most promiscuous of the ad campaign. The chocolate bar takes center stage, both literally and figuratively, and its appeal is highly sexual in nature. The sultry crimson backdrop enhances the seductive nature of the advertisement. While one might think this ad is meant to appeal to men by combining a chocolate bar with an exotic dancer, it may actually be developed to appeal to the women in its audience. By eating this particular kind of chocolate, a woman can associate herself with this sensual attitude, thereby becoming exotic and appealing herself.
The following update to this sensually charged ad takes the general notions of the actual image and seeks to reduce the sexual overtones portrayed. In an attempt to retain the overall nature of the campaign, the major change is a shift from an exotic dancing chocolate bar to a chocolate bar shaped like the chili which provides its flavors. This new persona reflects the true nature of the chocolate bar: a rich chocolate that uses the spiciness of chili peppers to enhance its taste. The crimson backdrop and “The Exotic One” tag lines are left intact, but in this rethinking of the ad they enhance the appeal of the chocolate’s spicy flavor rather than the sensuality of the previous incarnation. This ad appeals to any consumer who enjoys both spicy food and chocolate, rather than focusing on a single gender.
Race, gender, and sexuality have been recurrent themes in chocolate advertising since its entrance into consumer markets over a century ago. While these themes are prevalent in this and other industries, they are not necessities for successful ad campaigns. Simpler ads that feature appealing aspects of the product itself can be just as enticing to consumers as overtly sexualized or otherwise controversial images. According to Jay Walker-Smith, president of the marketing firm Yankelovich, consumers are exposed to upwards of 5,000 advertisements each day (qtd. in Johnson). Is it not time for consumers to press back against the stereotypical themes present in today’s marketing and for companies to strive for uncontroversial advertisements for their products?
“Green & Black’s – This Is Not A Chocolate Bar.” Mother. Mother, 14 Mar. 2013. Web. 7 Apr. 2016.
Johnson, Caitlin. “Cutting Through Advertising Clutter.” CBS News. CBS, 17 Sept. 2006. Web. 8 Apr. 2016.
Robertson, Emma. Chocolate, Women and Empire: A Social and Cultural History. Manchester: Manchester UP, 2009. Print.
Green & Black’s Chocolate: Butterscotch. Advertisement. London: Mother, 2013. Ads of the World. Web. 1 Apr. 2016.
Green & Black’s Chocolate: Chilli. Advertisement. London: Mother, 2013. Ads of the World. Web. 1 Apr. 2016.
Green & Black’s Chocolate: Dark. Advertisement. London: Mother, 2013. Ads of the World. Web. 1 Apr. 2016.
Green & Black’s Chocolate: Milk. Advertisement. London: Mother, 2013. Ads of the World. Web. 1 Apr. 2016.
Green & Black’s Chocolate: Range. Advertisement. London: Mother, 2013. Ads of the World. Web. 1 Apr. 2016.
Green & Black’s Chocolate: White. Advertisement. London: Mother, 2013. Ads of the World. Web. 1 Apr. 2016.
Thompson, Jacqie. Chilli Advertisement Update. 2016. Acrylic on canvas. Personal collection.