The way that products are advertised is telling of the values of a particular culture. Given the diction, images, and undertones of a particular ad, one can tell how a society thinks. In the context of advertising for chocolate and related products, tropes about race, gender, and sexuality are often covertly melded together under the guise of marketing. One products that disturbingly blends all three of these topics is an Axe line of chocolate-scented hygiene products for men entitled Dark Temptation. Axe’s ad for this product, displayed below, is nothing short of jaw-dropping.
While being outraged at the existence of such an ad is a place to start, more social good can be done by thinking critically of the many messages that this ad sends and creating appropriate responses to it. By interrogating these ads, we as a society have an opportunity to interrogate our underlying assumptions about our world. The Axe ad is problematic because it 1) promotes gendered stereotypes of chocolate consumption; and 2) ignores the racial implications of depicting individuals as chocolate.
The premise of this ad is heavily reliant on the joint sexualization of women and chocolate. Because it’s implied that women are attracted to chocolate on a sexual level, consumers of Dark Temptation can assume that women will become aroused when they smell the body spray. The association between chocolate and heterosexual romance in particular dates back to the mid-twentieth century. In the 1940s, Dairy Box made wartime ads that depicted dairy maids in little clothing and accompanied by a rhymes riddled in innuendo (Robertson 31). The overall tone of these ads was meant to use women as sexual objects to be used to keep male morale high (31); exactly what Axe’s ad does. By oversaturating their ad with women lusting after the chocolate man, Axe sends the message that women are objects that can be controlled by the mere scent of chocolate. Axe takes these gendered ideas about chocolate consumption one step further by showing women become irate in the presence of chocolate. The extent to which women in the ad bite, lick, and dismember the chocolate man is to suggest that women will “go crazy” for chocolate (Terrio 253). Similar to Aero ads from the 1930s that told women “when [they] resist the urge to eat chocolate [they] are ignoring one of Nature’s most serious warnings” (Robertson 35), this ad conveys women’s desire for chocolate as innate. Combined, these gendered tropes further the notions that: the sexualization of women is needed to market products to men, women consume chocolate for sexual reasons, and women cannot control themselves in the presence of chocolate.
Although there are many arguments that can be made about the gendered stereotypes present in this ad, there are racial components that can go overlooked. In the American context, the racialization of chocolate in relation to people of color makes this ad incredibly offensive. Because people of color are described as chocolate, in literature especially but in sexual terms more generally, the act of a white male being adored for his chocolate-ness by white women sends the message that people of color are objects for the enjoyment of white people. The parallel that is drawn between the darkness of the chocolate man and people of color’s skin evokes a particular kind colorism that exotifies the chocolate but demonizes the person. Even the name of the product, Dark Temptation, is harrowing in context of the commercial because of the implication of chocolate’s “temptation” and the darkness of the chocolate man.
In response to this ad, I made the following ad entitled “Chocolate Woman”.
In it, the deep brown scars on the woman’s back are symbolic of the pain that women of color feel when their skin color is sexualized but their physical bodies are ignored. The colors of the triangular pattern in the background are the same colors as the national flags of Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire, the top two cacao producing countries in the world. My figure responds to Axe’s ad on two fronts. First, it challenges the assumption that chocolate consumption is sexually gratifying for women by showing a woman who is clearly distressed. Secondly, and more importantly, it highlights the racial undertones of referring to an individual as “chocolate”.
All in all, there is much more that could be said about this ad than what I have addressed in this blogpost. What has been addressed though, is the extent to which Axe relied archetypal stereotypes to market this product. Not only does this ad suggest that women are sexual objects that are sexually attracted to chocolate to the point to irrationality, it ignores the racial implications of a white person being a “chocolate man”. Until we as a society create new images, like the one that I have made, or have critical dialogues about the assumptions present in our advertisements, photos like the one below will continue to go unchecked.
Axe. “Tv Ad – Axe Dark Temptation: Chocolate Man.” YouTube. YouTube, 03 Dec. 2007. Web. 08 Apr. 2016.
Magnum. Chocolate Possession. N.d. N.p.
Robertson, Emma. Chocolate, Women and Empire: A Social and Cultural History. Manchester: Manchester UP, 2009. Print.
Terrio, Susan J. Crafting the Culture and History of French Chocolate. Berkeley: U of California, 2000. Print.