In the world of chocolate advertisements, it seems chocolate corporations go to any and all ends to sell the products that they make; many times resulting in highly controversial images that reinforce negative stereotypes of various genders and ethnic groups. In passing, such images or videos may seem rather harmless – usually not given much thought by the consumer or receiver of the ad. However, a closer analysis of some of these adverts reveals the negative implications of such which can and do dangerously sneak by a casual audience, yet subliminally fortifying negative views of various sectors of the population.
Haagen-Dazs’ print ad titled CHOCOLATE was created by a Sao Paulo advertising agency in September 2004. This advert is rather striking at first especially because its title is CHOCOLATE, yet there seems to be no chocolate actually present in the photo. Rather, what is depicted is the portrait of a black woman holding a Haagen-Dazs Popsicle stick in her mouth. Just below her chin reads the words, “Chocolate & Dark Chocolate”. Thus, this implies that the CHOCOLATE is actually the woman pictured, blatantly objectifying her and using chocolate as a euphemism for her skin color. Such explicit references made to dark skin color are not made exclusively by chocolate companies. They can also be seen in other product advertisements such as the Kmart ad Anthony Cortese provides in his book Provocateur (Cortese, 92). Principally, we see that this use of race, specifically black people, to sell a product by adding a particular dimension to the commodity is something apparent throughout the world of advertising.
In her book Chocolate, Women and Empires, Emma Robertson invokes Jan Pieterse’s work, which demonstrates that the usage of black people in advertisements historically was a strategic measure implemented by many chocolate companies- and other companies whose products historically used slave labor- to enhance the luxury status of the product they were selling. (Robertson, 36) Because these images could implicitly implicate the lucid social hierarchy at the time – whites being the consumers of products provided by blacks – they helped to increase the social status of product they were displaying, in turn making it a commodity that was more desirable to its directed audience. Today however, we may instead look at a more temporally relevant explanation of the use of a black woman in this Haagen-Dazs advertisement as a way to construct “chocolate as an exotic commodity; both the product and the race [of the woman] are marked primarily by their spatial, temporal, and cultural distance from Europe.” (Robertson, 36) Kristy Leissle explains how in postcolonial literature, Africa and its people, are continually cast as primitive, traditional, and in an eternal developmental lag. (Leissle, 121) In depicting the place where cocoa is grown and the people who harvest such in this way very much creates a binary, which place Western culture on one side and African culture on the other. Thus, products which are exported from Africa are seen by Western consumers to have an exotic appeal to them; a perception that many chocolate advertisements play on such as this particular Haagen-Dazs commercial which uses a black woman to depict chocolate as an exotic, desirable product.
Another notable feature of this ad is that the person depicted as chocolate is not only black, but also a woman. Her profile is shown, and her bare shoulders indicate that she is nude. Holding the popsicle in here mouth, here eyes are closed and her head is tilted downwards, as if she is bowing or submitting herself to the consumer as the ad; personally, I get a sense of the fact that she has accepted her objectification, looking as if she has lost all her power and self-respect. In Provocateur, Cortese explicates how in many cases, women are hacked apart in ads, which only depict parts of them or their bodies. When separated into their parts, the woman is no longer linked to her mind, soul and emotions. (Cortese, 31) She has truly been objectified, as only certain parts of her have become important or of value to the consumer. In this case, the woman’s profile is shown but really only her head is of interest in this picture. Oval in shape, it closely links itself to the Haagen-Dazs ice cream bar that takes a very similar form. The rest of her body is omitted from the picture, as it is not “important” in this case, which Cortese explicates with the notion that “a woman without feet is immobile and therefore submissive”. (Cortese, 31) The woman in this case has been made to look like a chocolate ice cream bar who is submitting herself to the consumer – in this case the targeted audience is most likely men – accepting and perpetuating her objectified nature along with the idea that the objectification of women as done by such advert is acceptable.
Haagen-Dazs use of women and race to sell its product is highly derogatory and offensive. Adverts of such nature should be understood thoroughly by their audience and condemned for their either careless or intentional exploitation of women and race as a means for selling their product. As a way to push back on this particular ad, I have created an ad of my own that works to deconstruct these stereotypes.
In the advert I have created, instead of using a person to depict the Haagen-Dazs ice cream bar, I have instead used the bar itself, choosing images that allow the chocolate to sell itself; silky smooth . Also, to remove the gender stereotype from the original advert while maintaining the ads sexual appeal, I added the lines “I know you want me…. Come and get some…” as if the ice cream bar itself is attempting to lure its consumer in, rather than a submissive woman that plays on a power and dominance stereotype. In this way, without objectifying a woman, and connecting black complexion with chocolate, I still achieve the ultimate goal- selling the chocolate product.
Adar, Nir. Haagen-Dazs Bars. Digital image. http://www.niradar.com. N.p., n.d. Web. 2 Apr. 2016.
Cortese, Anthony J. “Figure 4.25.” Provocateur: Images of women and minorities in advertising. Lanham, MD.: 2001. Rowman & Littlefield, 1999.
Lew’Lara/TBWA Sao Paulo. “CHOCOLATE – Haagen-dazs Print Ad.”CHOCOLATE – Haagen-dazs Print Ad. Nestlé S.A, Sept. 2004. Web. 02 Apr. 2016.
Cortese, Anthony J. Provocateur: Images of women and minorities in advertising. Rowman & Littlefield, 2001.
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.