In many forms of advertising, women are frequently portrayed in erotic, stereotypical ways to sell products. One scholar argues that commercials from many industries, such as skin care, clothing, and tobacco, among others, show women “as things or mere sex objects” and reinforce images of both physical and emotional “weakness” in women (Cohan 323-327). These spots use women in revealing clothing, often with sexual facial expressions and body positions, to sell their goods by capitalizing on viewers’ desires. While some of these marketing campaigns have been attacked as unethical (Zhou and Chen 492), they remain ubiquitous in the promotion of chocolate, leaving viewers increasingly desensitized to their existence. For our advertisement, Nancy Liu, Alison Stein, and I decided to satirize the Axe Chocolate Body Spray campaign (AXEvip). We replaced chocolate with a food less frequently depicted as sexual: pasta. By mimicking the erotic chocolate images, our ad illustrates how abnormal and problematic these concepts should appear for all types of food.
Among sexualized commercials, chocolate campaigns are often some of the most egregious, depicting women losing control of their emotions and bodies when faced with the sweet. As shown by Professor Martin, these ads reinforce patriarchal stereotypes by having men provide chocolate for the women in their lives, show women going through mood swings between rage and ecstasy while eating chocolate, and portray women in sexual, revealing, almost orgasmic positions after consuming the food (Martin).
One advertisement for M&Ms called “Devour” depicts one woman warning an M&M that Kristin “can’t control herself around chocolate” and will “devour” the human-like M&Ms. Later, Red the M&M leaves the party with Kristin, who is dragging Red forcefully away (Big Game Ads). Although seemingly light-hearted, this advertisement portrays Kristin losing her mind, willing to eat someone who, in this commercial’s universe, appears to be an accepted member of society because of her overwhelming desire for chocolate. These types of television spots reinforce the stereotype that women are irrational, particularly when dealing with chocolate.
In the troubling Axe Dark Temptation Body Spray campaign, women in the ad chase after a man who, in women’s eyes at least, has become a human piece of chocolate after using the deodorant. The women lose their minds, licking him in the movie theatre, eating the chocolate on his butt while on the bus, crowding gym windows just to get a sight of him, and ripping off his arm while on the street (AXEvip). These depictions of women losing control in response to the mere scent of the chocolate spray reinforce stereotypes that women are mentally weak. Thus, when near chocolate, they can neither control themselves, nor can they differentiate between chocolate consumption and sexual desires. The advertisement also treats women as sex objects governed by their carnal desires. No matter what they happen to be doing when the man appears, they are happy to dismiss their obligations to follow him.
By depicting women in this sexualized way, the commercial exploits the desires of its male customer base, who largely wish to attract women. Were it not for the stereotypes associated with chocolate, such as the response of overpowering desire and sexuality in women, the spray would never have been made. Thus, the deodorant exploits and reinforces the same concerning depictions discussed above, which are crucial for its existence.
The spot also displays multiple other upsetting tropes. As is common in advertisements about love, heterosexuality dominates the commercial with only male-female attraction. The spot also perpetuates problematic images of race. When the unenthused white man becomes a human chocolate, he immediately gains wide eyes and an exaggerated smile with pearly white teeth common in stereotypical depictions of black people. His gift of a chocolate hand to the woman in the hospital is also troubling given the history of this confection, which is related to the hands of African slaves cut off as punishment by Belgians on Congolese rubber plantations (Martin). Although these images add to the problematic nature of the commercial, we decided to focus on the gender aspects discussed above.
In our ad, we have replaced the chocolate spray with a “pasta” version. The woman in the flier has lost control over herself while eating the food, getting the sauce all over her clothes and face. Like the depictions of chocolate, the woman has been overpowered by her desire to consume the pasta. The vaguely phallic nature of the spaghetti noodle in her mouth adds to the carnal nature of the image. We then decided to mock the slogans used in the Axe ads with our own pasta slogan, “Bring out the carb-lover in her.” Much like the chocolate Axe commercial, we have sought to exploit the male desire to attract women by referencing the theoretical idea that the scent of pasta is also overwhelming. Because of the abnormality of this depiction, the sexualized image of pasta is uncomfortable and almost comedic. Unlike chocolate, sexualized pasta images are not so common that they go unnoticed by society. Thus, it becomes easier to see the problematic nature of the erotic and ditzy depiction of this woman and to then apply these ideas to the disappointing chocolate ads.
By satirizing the chocolate commercial, our odd pasta image makes the troubling nature of chocolate marketing clear and seeks to remove this “societal blindspot” (Martin). In much of advertising over the past three decades, companies have sought to complicate stereotypical depictions of women, which has resulted in slow improvements around the world (Sheehan 91-6). As discussed by Professor Martin, however, the discourse surrounding chocolate lags behind that of other areas because we are desensitized (Martin). Thus, we need to continue to expose these worrying advertisements that are much too prevalent in the chocolate industry.
- New AXE Dark Temptation Commercial (US). 2008. Film.
- Big Game Ads. M&M Brown – Super Bowl Commercial | M&M Red – Big Game Commercial | Devour. 2014. Film.
- Cohan, John Alan. “Towards a New Paradigm in the Ethics of Women’s Advertising.” Journal of Business Ethics4 (2001): 323–337. Print.
- Martin, Carla. “Race, Ethnicity, Gender, and Class in Chocolate Advertisements.” AAAS-119X. Harvard University Cambridge, MA. 2016. Lecture.
- Sheehan, Kim Bartel. Controversies in Contemporary Advertising. SAGE Publications, 2013. books-google-com.ezp-prod1.hul.harvard.edu. Web. 9 Apr. 2016.
- Zhou, Nan, and Mervin Y. T. Chen. “A Content Analysis of Men and Women in Canadian Consumer Magazine Advertising: Today’s Portrayal, Yesterday’s Image?” Journal of Business Ethics5 (1997): 485–495. Print.