A day spent in the western world is a day filled with advertisements. Their ubiquity makes the messages that they convey very important. In chocolate advertising, the images used to convey these messages often include women and evoke luxuriousness. While these characteristics are not concerning in themselves, they are often used in a problematic manner in advertising campaigns. An excellent example of this is an advertisement for Dove’s “Cranberry Almond Silky Smooth Dark Chocolate” in 2008. The advertisement contains elements that induce consumers to associate chocolate with high-class and female sexual pleasure, while an alternative advertisement purposefully avoids these problematic themes.
Dove’s “Cranberry Almond Silky Smooth Dark Chocolate”
The image used in the advertisement (shown below) depicts the face of a Caucasian woman with her eyes closed, nestled among folds of silk or satin. The image has soft lighting that creates various hues of brown and gold and casts shadows on the face of the woman and on the folds of the material. She has a faint smile that gives the impression of relaxing pleasure rather than deep sleep.
This type of pleasure is portrayed to be sexual in nature by the words below the image that include the phrase “now it can last longer than you can resist.” The wording is clearly alluding to the time it takes a woman to climax and implying that the chocolate is so good and it lasts in your mouth so long that it will cause this intense pleasure. The dim, soft lighting also contributes to the sexualization of the woman in the advertisement by portraying a romantic, beautiful, sensual image. Again, the pleasure indicated by the woman’s smile also appears to indicate recent sexual satisfaction. Indeed, this advertisement not only contains connotations of sexual pleasure, but portrays the chocolate itself as inducing a pleasure that is orgasmic. I am not aware of any cases of chocolate consumption that have resulted in orgasms for males or females, so portraying it as such reduces and simplifies a woman’s sexuality. These images and themes appear to be intentional as another advertisement in the Dove campaign series contains many similar elements (see below).
This link between chocolate and sex was especially pushed in advertisements for luxury chocolates (Robertson 2009). This tactic remained popular for about the first three-fourths of the twentieth century, and appears to be being used here (Robertson 2009). The rich folds of material in the image imply luxury and high-class or status. In the early 1900s, advertisements from British chocolatiers displayed elegantly dressed blindfolded females choosing the “best” chocolate – conveying chocolate as something luxurious and tying in female sexuality (Robertson 2009). These types of advertisements encouraged “other consumers to aspire to the social distinction afforded by drinking and serving the best cocoa” (Robertson 2009: 26). This pushed the idea that spending money on chocolate was important to show wealth and sophistication – an idea that could be harmful to individuals who didn’t have as much disposable income as the wealthy. Thus, the advertisement is targeting women who want the intense pleasure supposedly derived from consuming chocolate, and the luxuriousness that is associated with it.
An Alternative Ad
A more honest, yet still effective, advertisement that does not stereotype women as seeking pleasure and luxury in their chocolate, is shown below.
A woman is featured in this advertisement, but she is not in a sexual position, displays no form of sexual yearning, and is not surrounded by images of high-class and luxury (although the “Harvard” text does imply great privilege). This advertisement aims to target the Harvard community by using humor and identifying a common sentiment, all the while creating a more complex image surrounding the female consumer.
She is staring thoughtfully at the chocolate and has on a Harvard sweatshirt and Harvard ring. These images give the impression of competence, intelligence, and agency. She is making an informed choice in eating the chocolate. The text and setting also differentiate this advertisement from the Dove one. She is not wrapped in fabric, but sitting in the dining hall, where consumption of food is common. She is choosing to consume the chocolate as a solution to the foul taste of the food of Harvard University Dining Services, rather than as a solution to her desire for sexual pleasure.
Just as one advertising campaign of Divine Chocolate sought to present the women behind the chocolate as more complex and professional than stereotypes of African cacao workers allow (Leissle 2012), this advertisement attempts to present the female consumer as choosing chocolate for reasons other than a stereotyped sexual satisfaction. Chocolate companies often choose to portray luxury and female sexual pleasure in their advertising campaigns, but they would do well to consider other themes that go beyond stereotype.
Leissle, Kristy. “Cosmopolitan cocoa farmers: refashioning Africa in Divine Chocolate advertisements.” Journal of African Cultural Studies 24.2 (2012): 121-139.
Robertson, Emma. Chocolate, Women and Empire: A Social and Cultural History. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2009.