Race and Cultural Insensitivity in Chocolate Advertising

It is impossible to speak on chocolate advertising, through the lens of race and cultural insensitivity without being over-loaded with one image or video after another, of companies pleading ignorance or using deception in their bid to gain more consumers and acquire “target markets”. It is pertinent for the discussion of this subject matter that I utilize a select few images to tell a Story of the constructed prejudices still proliferated today in the world of chocolate advertising. Advertising in the chocolate industry especially in the western world is ignorant of the social, economic and political conditions facing the chocolate products that are marketed to consumers. These advertisements are generated primarily for the purposes of consumerism.  History has been unkind in creating these stereotypes and what is now apparent is that chocolate industries have adopted these attributes to be used thematically in advertising as a means to widen consumer markets and increase sales, the use of racial and cultural insensitive has now become a tool used by certain chocolate companies to sell more ‘chocolate’.

belgian chocolate hands
Belgian ‘Chocolate Hands’

This picture, is of sweets popular in the Antwerp region of Belgium. “Antwerpse handjes in Dutch,  are associated primarily with the myth of the founding of the city, in which the hero Brabo slew the tyrannical giant Antigoon, cut off one of his hands, and threw it in the river” (Dean). Of course the origin of the chocolate hands has been falsely attributed to a mythological story. The Chocolate hands in truth originated from a more sinister series of events that occurred during Belgium’s occupation of Congo by King Leopold II. “ The Belgium forces overseeing the enslaved workers were tasked to meet a daily quota of rubber and ivory harvest, the workers who did not meet the required quota would have their hands severed as punishment” (Dean). A false attribution of this chocolate hands with a local myth, is used to create patriotism and to increase sales. A marketing tool that chocolate advertisers often utilize.

Kina Ad
Swedish Kina Chocolate

The Swedish Kina chocolate company advertisement shows how companies use cultural appropriation to suit their needs. The image features a rice krisp covered chocolate; an Asian woman with a hat is seen perched on top of the chocolate bar. This traditional hat is widely common in Asian countries, it is also common knowledge that people of Asian descent are attributed with rice. After much uproar, Kina went ahead and removed the face but left the hat, a trade mark of the Asian community that simply just is- is used to promote a stereotype.

Sunny chocolate

To push back against the use of race and culturally insensitive as an advertising tool, I have created an image that focuses just on the chocolate itself. Chocolate being consumed by something we all consider gender-less, the sun. An argument could be made that my advertisement has no “target market” and it does not promote sales in anyway. My answer to that, is why should it? Chocolate sells itself, people are drawn to the taste. If chocolate is truly for the young and old, black and white, man and woman, why is a “target market” needed. Why is it that chocolate can’t be advertised to all on the same platform and everyone be allowed to choose without the power of persuasion. It could also be said that my advertisement lacks persuasion, I would refute  with the assertion that persuasion when coupled with stereotypes and prejudice leads to vilification. As chocolate has been deemed to be sinful and even a subject of oppression- in reference to the disparities in Cacao industry.

To better understand the damages perpetuated by chocolate advertising, one should take a closer look at the Critical Race Theory introduced by Professor Martin in Lecture. The six basic tenets of race theory emphasizes certain points that enshroud the problems with race and cultural insensitivity today. 1) Racism is ordinary- these stereotypes are enforced by human beings and only we can change them. 2) Interest convergence- the interest of the power players do not align with an egalitarian initiative. 3) Social construction- stereotypes are used as a tool to promote Dwarnist ideas- some people have to be at the bottom of the food chain while others are on top. 4) Differential Racialization- Different groups are profiled based on what is best suited at the time. Intersectionality and anti- essentialism- No prejudice is above or under the other and one can experience all in a particular situation. For instance, in the Cadbury Ad calling out Naomi Campbell, Not only was she profiled as having a stubborn and unyielding attitude like most black women are that she has to be instructed to “move over”, she is also called out as a “Diva”, a negative image that strong and independent women who know what they want are often associated with.

Naomi Campbell cardbury
Cadbury- Naomi Campbell Ad

6) Unique Voice of Color- People who have experienced prejudice are better at shining light on their plight. Integrating stereotypes in advertisements can be positive when it is used to create awareness or for positive campaigns against prejudice. It should never be used as an advertising tool to promote consumerism.

The Chocolate industry has had damaging effects in the use of “target market” ideology to increase sales. These stereotypes are often times given a pass because people are unaware of them or choose to be undisturbed by them. To condone the stereotypes in chocolate advertising is furthering the damage history has already created and in this case, it is much more insidious because it can go unrecognized or even worse, be tolerated as the norm.

Works Cited

Scholarly Sources:

Dean, Caroline. Chocolates as Cultural Blind Spots: Responding to “Civilization”. 12 February 2013. 5 April 2016. <http://sites.northwestern.edu/akih/2013/02/21/chocolates-as-cultural-blind-spots-responding-to-civilization/&gt;.

Martin, Carla. “Race, Ethnicity, Gender, and Class in Chocolate Advertisements.” Chocolate Class. Byerly Hall, Cambridge. 30 March 2016. Lecture

Multimedia Sources:

Meyer, Norma. River cruise celebrates ‘tulip time’. 21 August 2015. 5 April 2016. <http://www.sandiegouniontribune.com/news/2015/aug/21/river-cruise-celebrates-tulip-time/&gt;.

Sweneyy, Mark. Cadbury apologizes to Naomi Campbell over ‘racist’ ad . 3 June 2011. 5 April 2016. <http://www.theguardian.com/media/2011/jun/03/cadbury-naomi-campbell-ad&gt;.

Waterfield, Bruno. Nordic confectionery giant redesigns ‘racist’ logo. 21 September 2011. 5 April 2016. <http://www.telegraph.co.uk/foodanddrink/foodanddrinknews/8778820/Nordic-confectionary-giant-redesigns-racist-logo.html&gt;.

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