empowerment and objectification
For ninety years, Godiva Chocolatier has struggled to strike a balance between empowering women and objectifying them. Godiva was named after the legendary Lady Godiva, whose story, though set just after the turn of the 11th century, exemplifies the tension between female empowerment and objectification that we see in advertising in 2016.
Lady Godiva is generally remembered far better for her titillating nudity than for the circumstances that preceded her naked horseback ride. As the story goes, she argued with her husband (Lord Godiva, presumably) over his tax policy, which was hurting the people in their village. He agreed to change his policies if she rode naked through the village on horseback (French). According to the story, she took him at his word and rode naked through the town, and he changed his tax policy, and in theory everyone lived happily ever after (French).
Whether the story is true or not, it poses a difficult question regarding objectification. Lady Godiva took a bold action to stand up for the people of her village, but she was coerced into it by a male partner who did not take her opinions seriously. She chose her nudity, and yet it was not her choice at all. Is she an example of a woman taking her sexuality into her own hands, and using it to empower herself, or an example of a woman forced to expose herself as the lesser of two evils?
The question of female agency in sexualized media can be difficult to disentangle. Certainly female sexuality – and indeed nudity – in and of itself is not a problem. The problem arises when women are sexualized by others, for the benefit of others, and to the discomfort or even harm of the woman.
godiva ads, past and present
Godiva has historically produced advertisements that align with stereotypes, particularly the trope of the woman who is aroused by chocolate (Martin). Their recent DIVA advertising campaign features a series of women with dark eye makeup and lidded eyes, tousled hair, and clothing that appears to be slipping off. In the image below, the placement of the woman’s hands draw attention to her hair and her low neckline, and her horizontal position implies an arousal of something more than taste.
In an interview with AdWeek to herald Godiva’s 90th anniversary, head of marketing Michelle Chin offered that Godiva is looking to shift their target demographic to reach a younger consumer. “For us, what’s most important is pushing the emotional connection that consumers have with the brand,” Chin said. “Godiva means a lot of different things to people, but it really comes down to one thing—sparking joy and delight in consumers (Nudd)”. If their current marketing strategy can be successful at sparking joy and delight in that younger target demographic, they may be able to make this shift quite easily. If their advertisements are missing the mark, though, there may be more work for Godiva to do.
finally rewarded: a close read
The ad below is a still image of a woman in her late twenties or early thirties, leaning on a countertop, lifting a Godiva truffle from a gold box on the counter to her mouth. Behind her, out of focus, several men and at least one woman are standing or sitting, some drinking from glasses, with platters of food between them. This image does not immediately appear to be overly sexual; the woman’s shirt is high-necked, and she is leaning over the counter in a realistic, non-exhibitory pose. A gold panel at the right side of the image serves multiple functions: it reminds the viewer of the gold color of Godiva’s signature chocolate boxes, it generates an association between the ad and a marker of luxury, and it creates a space for text to be easily superimposed on the image.
Yet several aspects of her physical appearance match onto features that stereotypically mark a woman as a sex object: her lips are slightly parted; her eyes are closed, or at least heavily lidded; her hair is tousled and shiny; her skin looks smooth and golden. Her shirt folds in a way that draws attention to her chest and collarbones. In the language of print advertising, her body language is code for arousal – and in this ad, she is clearly being aroused by the chocolate. But this is fairly typical of chocolate ads.
A more interesting feature of her pose is her privacy from the rest of the party. The text accompanying the image indicates that she was the one to plan the party, yet she has withdrawn from it to eat this chocolate. She appears to be celebrating her successful party with a private reward: she is not being celebrated by anyone else, including and especially her male guests, blurry and silent at the back of the frame. The ad also doesn’t focus on any pleasure stemming from her successful party or from a feeling that the work she put into it was worthwhile. Her only pleasure comes from the chocolate.
The chocolate, then, is clearly a private pleasure. Women are frequently depicted in media eating chocolate “in various states of sensual arousal” and frequently alone, sneaking the chocolate “as a guilty pleasure or consolation prize” (Martin). Two things complicate this trope. First, the comparison of chocolate-eating pleasure to sexual orgasmic pleasure leaves the woman merely the object of some pleasuring force (chocolate). If the experience of eating chocolate is sensually arousing, then watching the woman in the advertisement eat chocolate is a form of accepted voyeurism, with all the problematic implications that brings.
Second, the concept of food being used in secret reward behavior is deeply connected to troubled eating patterns. Public schools have been trying to ban food as an in-school reward for good behavior for years; several studies have shown that teaching people that food is a reward means they crave it far more, and are at much higher risk for obesity (Healy). Women, in particular, are taught to conceal their eating habits from a young age, or told that men find it unattractive when women eat in public. The instinct to hide food and snacking behaviors, especially on unhealthy foods – like chocolate – can be an early indicator of eating disorders (Rainey). Encouraging the women who see this ad to mimic that behavior is likely to go poorly.
redesigning for a new demographic
Godiva’s head of marketing wants the main associations consumers make with Godiva to be joy and delight. The ad above primarily transmits a message of pleasure, and mostly sexual pleasure. To facilitate a shift toward less-sexual joy, and to broaden the ad campaign’s appeal to a wider audience, a redesign of the above print ad uses nearly the same framing and phrasing but incorporates a different woman and a different scene.
In the redesigned ad, the phrase “Weeks AND WEEKS of planning” refers not to planning a party, but to Nicola Adams’ training and preparation for the 2012 London Olympics competition in boxing. Her preparation was presumably physically and emotionally taxing, and she is being rewarded with both a gold medal and a Godiva chocolate bar. This resolves several problematic aspects of the original ad.
Nicola is being rewarded not only with chocolate, but also with a gold medal. She is being celebrated for her success and performance, and her joy appears to stem from her abilities as well as from her chocolate-bar. The bright lights on her, compared to the dark background, also indicate that she is being lit or perhaps even photographed in front of a crowd of on-lookers. The public nature of the ad removes the problematic food-hiding behavior from the first ad.
From the Olympic medal around her neck, we are able to infer that she is being celebrated for her physical prowess. The gold stripe at the right side of the image is now more strongly associated with the gold medal – a symbol of overwhelming ability and success – than it is with luxury or classism.
Finally, the ad does not cast Nicola as a sex object. Her smile reaches her eyes; her hair is up, perhaps for comfort or ease of movement or perhaps just because she likes to wear it that way; she is wearing athletic clothing, and little or no makeup to accentuate her lips or darken her eyes.
suggestions for godiva
This redesigned advertisement is far from a solution to the stereotyped and sexualized images prevalent in chocolate advertisements and in all media today. By revising ad campaigns to erase stereotypes of sexism and classism and mental health (and we haven’t even discussed the racial undertones prevalent in chocolate imagery), Godiva can take a step toward reaching their target demographic with a message of delight and of joy.
French, Katherine. 1992. “The legend of Lady Godiva and the image of the female body.” Journal of Medieval History 18 (1): 3-19.
Healy, Melissa. 2014. “When food’s the reward, obese women’s judgment fails them.” Los Angeles Times, 17 July 2014. Web. 8 Apr. 2016.
Martin, Carla D. “Women Alone with Chocolate in TV Commercials.” Bittersweet Notes. WordPress, 7 June 2012. Web. 8 Apr. 2016.
Nudd, Tim. 2016. “At 90, Godiva Proudly Looks Back as It Charts a Path Forward: The Belgian chocolatier has a lauded history but needs to court younger buyers.” AdWeek. 31 Mar. 2016. Web. 8 Apr. 2016.
Puhl, R.M. and Schwartz, M.B. 2003. “If you are good you can have a cookie: How memories of childhood food rules link to adult eating behaviors.” Eating Behaviors 4 (3): 283-93.
Rainey, Sarah. 2015. “Ever hidden food, or secretly disposed of wrappers? Then you need to read this.” The Telegraph. 14 Jan 2015. Web. 8 Apr. 2016.