As far as Dove chocolate is concerned, this advertisement is supposed to exude only positive attributes: sensuality in the service of women, and strength and desirability for men. However, when one looks beyond those surface cliches it becomes apparent that the most ironic thing about this advertisement is the tension between what the advertisement is specifically trying to convey and the connections that the advertisement actually makes when it is analyzed. Obviously, the advertisement proposes that the chiseled man is being depicted as a chocolate bar, however it is only his torso which we see. Thus, the man is faceless and brainless. He is merely an aesthetic object, not a person, but rather a toy for one’s pleasure – just like that advertised chocolate bar, so it is not an unreasonable connection which Dove is attempting to make, as long as any moral considerations are kept at bay. Someone could push back on this cold assessment of mere aestheticism by stating that the Dove advertisement solely functions on the surface or primal level, which is exactly what Dove was aiming for. However, this evaluation ignores the history that is behind what is illustrated in the advertisement itself, and this history is comprised of important facts that cannot be ignored 1. In addition to that, having an African-American man’s torso, and only an African-American man’s torso (other than the graphics and text on the bottom), has another unintended layer of irony that this advertisement unwittingly reveals, because for a long, long time, cocoa was cultivated by African slaves 1. The work of cocoa harvesting is hard, so the chiseled look shown in the Dove advertisement could in fact be an example of a body shaped by the harvesting of cacao by a slave, not unlike the man in the picture below 1.
Many men died, or at the very least suffered greatly, while looking physically similar to the man who is portrayed in the Dove chocolate advertisement 2. It is sickening to think about that and makes it hard to look at the advertisement the same way when presented with this information. Hence, the advertisement’s intention is sensuality and desirability, but for those in the know, its true effect is connected to the mind-boggling atrocities associated with slavery.
In my above constructed advertisement, John Travolta is showcased as a regular guy, not particularly in shape or physically exceptional. He is shown as just a man enjoying a Jacuzzi, a drink out of a red plastic cup, and chocolate bar. This is a depiction that more realistically reflects the look of someone who would actually eat (and give away) a chocolate bar. Also, John Travolta has a life which is about as far as one can get from being a slave. The man owns his own 747 airplane and gets paid millions of dollars to act in movies 8. He can go where ever he want to go and do just about anything that he pleases. People adore and admire him. Also, even though John Travolta is famous, he looks to have the physic of a typical man. He is not a physically specimen like the man (or rather the “torso”) in the Dove advertisement, and he is not in shape like a slave working the cocoa fields probably would have been 3. The Travolta advertisement’s setting is all very relaxed, casual, and essentially non-sexual, even though John Travolta is just as shirtless as the depiction in the Dove advertisement. Travolta’s physicality is both believable and achievable from the perspective of the average man.
Whereas the Travolta picture looks to have been taken when he was on vacation, the Dove torso advertisement provides no clues regarding its geographical location. Also, both the Travolta advertisement and the Dove advertisement look to be modern creations. However, there is a bit of ambiguity here regarding exactly when each advertisement was crafted from start to finish, or more specifically the overall time invested individually between the two, which includes when the two pictures were taken and then turned into finished ads.
In regards to how each advertisement fits in a historical context, it is important to note that many of the people who consumed chocolate in the days of slavery looked more like John Travolta than like the man in the Dove advertisement, whereas many of the people who had farmed cacao during that same period looked more like the gentleman in the Dove advertisement than they did John Travolta 5,6.
Travolta-like people at a London chocolate house (7)
The Dove advertisement has no personality, is faceless, and represents ideas verses representing any semblance of humanity and personality. Upon further examination, this advertisement has a certain unintended irony, bordering on being repulsive. The Travolta advertisement, by contrast, is more relaxed, more familiar. People recognize and revere John Travolta. Its caption is inviting, not judgmental, and something nearly everyone can relate to. I propose that, unlike the Dove advertisement, this advertisement would probably not repulse anyone. Thus, I find it amazing that a major corporation, such as Mars, Inc. which makes Dove chocolate bars, would put out an advertisement such as the “torso” advertisement without either being aware of the reprehensible connections associated with it, or being aware of those connections and not care enough about them to still release that advertisement to the general public. That ignorance or lack of concern may be the most disturbing modern fact of all pertaining to everything that I have covered in this essay.
1. Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. The True History of Chocolate. New York: Thames and Hudson, 1996. Print. pp. 186-196
2. “Facts about the Slave Trade and Slavery.” Facts about the Slave Trade and Slavery. Web. 07 Apr. 2016. <http://www.gilderlehrman.org/history-by-era/slavery-and-anti-slavery/resources/facts-about-slave-trade-and-slavery>.
3. “Slavery in the Caribbean – International Slavery Museum, Liverpool Museums.” Slavery in the Caribbean – International Slavery Museum, Liverpool Museums. Web. 11 Mar. 2016.
4. “God’s HotSpot.” Gods HotSpot. Web. 08 Apr. 2016. <https://godshotspot.wordpress.com/tag/whipped-slaves/>.
5. “College Board.” AP Central. Web. 07 Apr. 2016. <http://apcentral.collegeboard.com/apc/members/courses/teachers_corner/46973.html>.
6. Britain and the Caribbean. Web. 11 Mar. 2016. <http://www.bbc.co.uk/education/guides/zjyqtfr/revision/2>.
7. The Telegraph. Telegraph Media Group. Web. 08 Apr. 2016. <http://www.telegraph.co.uk/travel/destinations/europe/united-kingdom/england/london/articles/The-surprising-history-of-Londons-lost-chocolate-houses/>.
8. “John Travolta to Pilot Own Jumbo.” Evening Standard. 2002. Web. 08 Apr. 2016. <http://www.standard.co.uk/news/john-travolta-to-pilot-own-jumbo-6327780.html>.