Female Hyper Sexualization in Chocolate Ads

Introduction

Cacao as a consumable entity has come a very long way. The same cacao beans which originally formed the basis of cold, bitter Aztec beverages are now used as a main ingredient in modern chocolate products. The first chocolate bar was manufactured by Joseph Fry in 1847 (Martin 5), and since then the chocolate industry has continued to grow and expand rapidly. Today, chocolate is a globally widespread, mass produced commodity.

Unsurprisingly, the commercial success of chocolate has created the need for chocolate companies to invest in heavy marketing. Generally, the goal of advertising any commercial item is to convince potential buyers that they want to purchase that item. The chocolate market is no different. Consequently, producers and manufacturers of chocolate rely on advertising to instill a desire for the their merchandise in the population. In fact big chocolate businesses often spend millions of dollars in order to publicize their product and thereby increase demand and sales. For instance, in 2010 “Hershey spent roughly 441 million trying to convince consumers to pick up a chocolate bars” (Malawskey 1).

Fortunately for large chocolate companies, advertising campaigns for chocolate and chocolate candies have typically been effective. In the United States alone in 2015, consumers spent 22 billion dollars on chocolate (Martin 2). Unfortunately, despite their gross economic success, chocolate commercials have also been closely linked to racism, classism and sexism.

Thesis

This post will analyze and critique a video commercial for DOVE chocolate. The video was posted on YouTube on February 16, 2016 by DOVE chocolate alongside the message “Revel in the pleasure of our three new DOVE Fruit and Nut Blends made with silky-smooth DOVE dark chocolate.” The main focus of this analysis will be the problematic gender dynamics of the advertisement, although there are also less obvious problems within the commercial including issues related to race and class.

In this advertisement the main actress, a young white woman, is portrayed in a very specific way; she is hyper-sexualized. The depiction of this woman is consistent with a restrictive sphere of femininity and a limited definition of pleasure. The impact of this commercial is overwhelmingly negative because it normalizes the sexual objectification of women and perpetuates harmful stereotypes about what is desirable in relation to body image and beauty standards. It also creates a disconnect between chocolate consumption and production.

Critique of the Original Advertisement

Six still images have been taken from the Dove video for individual analysis.

 

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In this image, the camera is zoomed in on the woman’s lips. Although the chocolate is visible, the main focus of the shot is clearly her pink lips. This is not unusual considering women’s lips have a long history of being sexualized.

 

 

Screen Shot 2016-04-08 at 1.01.16 AM

In this image, the camera is once again zoomed in on a subsection of the actress’ face. The first thing that the audience is meant to notice is that her eyes are closed. The implication here is that the woman is feeling so much pleasure that her eyes have drifted shut. The goal of DOVE is to have audiences establish a connection between this woman’s pleasure and their chocolate product. The woman is also wearing shimmering eye shadow meant to show off her femininity and beauty.

 

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In this shot the camera is focused on the woman’s feet. She is wearing gold high heels that suggest luxury and a particularly glamorous vision of femininity. Another important detail within this frame is the rope that the woman is carrying. There is absolutely no intuitive link between chocolate and rope. However the rope carries strong implicit sexual undertones, and DOVE wants buyers to view this woman as strong and sexy.

 

Screen Shot 2016-04-08 at 1.01.30 AM.png

The surface comparison that DOVE is making in this shot is between the woman’s soft, flowing dress and the smooth silkiness of their chocolate. However there is a much stronger implied message here. Importantly, the woman’s posture indicates that she is in ecstasy. Her back is deliberately arched as if she is in the throes of pleasure. It is easy to see that the nature of this pleasure is explicitly sexual. The woman appears essentially orgasmic.

 

Screen Shot 2016-04-08 at 1.01.38 AM.png

In this shot the woman has been covered in chocolate power. DOVE clearly wants to show that she has been consumed by their delicious product. However, this image of a lady covered in chocolate also has a subtle secondary implication. It suggests that she is filthy and this dirtiness can be interpreted in a sexual context.

Importantly, this specific portrayal of women is not unique to DOVE. Chocolate companies have a history of advertising their goods using women who are characterized as sexually filthy. For instance, in the following advertisement for chocolate, the slogan reads “Filthy, Obsessed by Pleasure.”

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In this final image there is once again no actual chocolate visible on screen. However the woman is wearing an exquisite red dress. It is the intention of DOVE to present her as beautiful and striking. She is clearly meant to exude confidence, wealth and status.

 

After considering this advertisement in completion, it becomes clear that DOVE is specifically targeting women who want to feel sexy and men who want the women they buy chocolate for to react in a sexual way. However the portrayal of women as permanently sexualized, obsessive, and out of control is dangerous to the social understanding of women as complex multi-dimensional human beings. Another negative consequence of this overt sexualization is revealed by Emma Robertson. She points out that chocolate adverts “have perpetuated western [sexist] ideologies under a veneer of pleasurable conditions and have [thus] divorced chocolate from the conditions of production” (Robertson 10). An over sexualized woman in an elaborate gown bears little resemblance to a rural cacao farmer.

 

Critique of New Ad

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This new advertisement was created to fix several of the major problems identified in the DOVE commercial.

One major goal of this new commercial is to redefine pleasure. DOVE clearly wants to form an association between their product and pleasure. In this revised advertisement, pleasure has different meanings. Pleasure can mean doing an activity such horseback riding that brings a person joy, or it can mean doing something simple and relaxing such watching television. It also does not have to be solitary. Pleasure can also come from enjoying the company of friends or family. Importantly, in this commercial both men and women are capable of experiencing pleasure. The pleasurable emotions linked to consuming chocolate should not be gendered.

This new commercial also makes a conscious effort to be more inclusive and thus appeal to a wider target audience. People of all races, can partake in the DOVE experience and enjoy the chocolate. They also do not have to be rich.

Lastly, the fashion in this commercial is has been adjusted to include a sample of typical clothing worn in everyday life. This has been done with the hope of deconstructing the link between intricate, complicated gowns and dresses and feminine beauty.

 

Citations 

Malawskey, Nick. Hershey Co. ranked among top 5 in advertising spending growth in U.S. 2011. Web.

Martin, Carla. Lecture 2. 

Martin, Carla. Lecture 3.

Robertson, Emma. Chocolate, Women and Empire: A Social and Cultural History. 2010. 1-131. Print.

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