The overt sexualization of women is pervasive in current chocolate advertising. This is likely an artifact of the portrayal of chocolate as sinful, which has been common in western culture since its introduction to the European market. Chocolate advertising is, and has been for a long time, problematic in many ways, but the sexism and clear sexual innuendo in its advertising seems both the most frequent abuse as well as the most curious. Chocolate is mostly an impulse purchase in the U.S. and Europe, and is most often purchased by women, so chocolate advertising, understandably, targets women (Martin, Lecture 2016). At the same time, however, the portrayal of women in chocolate ads is often incredibly sexist, and sexualizes them in a way that is expected of ads targeting a mostly male audience.
I have selected three chocolate advertisements that use this form of marketing. The first is a frame from an advertisement for a Cadbury flake bar, in which the viewer intrudes on a young woman eating a Cadbury chocolate flake bar in her bathtub, and presumably having an orgasm. Really, the imagery is so apparent that we don’t actually have to presume that much, if at all. It is understandable that a company would want to advertise a product to women as capable of giving them orgasms, at least on the level of ‘sex sells,’ yet ads like this portray the women as obsessive and sex-crazed, at best, and objects akin to a piece of chocolate at worst. Emma Roberts points out in her book that there is a clear link in advertising between women and sex, and that such advertisements “perpetuate western sexist and racist ideologies under a veneer of pleasurable consumption” (Robertson 2009), yet this is often used to sell products to men. In fact, advertisement research on the topic has shown that women in general respond more negatively to sexual advertisements than men (Dahl, Sengupta, & Vohs 2008). Why would ads for women cross the line from selling sex to women, to selling sex to men and falling into sexist stereotypes?
Below are two more ads that fall into the category of sexualization in a way that targets women and is at the same time offensive to them. In the advertisement of Filthy chocolate, the sinfulness and obsessiveness that often ties women and chocolate together is explicitly written in the text of the advertisement. Further, we can see the woman, clothed in chocolate, in a state of what seems to be intense pleasure, but with her body contorted in an extremely unrealistic way, and which portrays sexuality but not ‘properness.’ That is, it buys into a typical representation of women for male audiences, that aims to portray them as sexual objects, but with some degree of resistance to that sexuality, because are not intended to embrace their sexuality as openly as men can. In the advertisement by dove, it is hard to discern any traceable attempt to appeal to women, other than the fact that a woman is eating the chocolate. The woman holds her mouth and consumes the chocolate in an incredibly sexual way, but is disembodied, without any character, and shows no sign of enjoyment of the action, which the other ads, though problematic, at least are able to achieve. This ad strikes me as completely nonsensical, as it only sexualizes the woman but fails to deliver any convincing evidence that the chocolate will maker her happy.
In our advertisements, my group partner and I decided recreated these advertisements with men eating chocolate in the absurd way that women are portrayed as eating chocolate in many of these ads. It is intended to point out the completely flawed thinking that goes into ads that target women at the same time as stereotyping and objectifying them. First, and most apparently, nobody actually eats chocolate the way that these women are portrayed as eating chocolate. It is actually accepted in the media as not being absurd because people are used to this overt sexualization of women, but our ad points out how absurd it is by showing people very different from incredibly attractive, likely airbrushed, women eating chocolate in this manner. These ads include an attempt to portray the contorted, sexual-yet-shy body language of the ‘Filthy’ chocolate ad, to the apparent orgasm that eating chocolate can give a person. In the context of young men doing these things instead of young women, they seem ridiculous.
“As Britain’s Sexiest Chocolate Ad Hits 40 … It’s Joss – Only the Sultriest, Funkiest Flake Girl.” Mail Online. Associated Newspapers, n.d. Web. 06 Apr. 2016.
Bui, Quang. Filthy Chocolate Ad Campaign. Digital image. 22 May 2011. Web.
Dahl, D., Sengupta, J., & Vohs, K. (2008). Sex In Advertising: Gender Differences And the Role of Relationship Commitment. Journal of Consumer Research, 215-231.
Mauss, Marcel, and E. E. Evans-Pritchard. The Gift: Forms and Functions of Exchange in Archaic Societies. New York: Norton, 1967. Print.
Martin, Carla D. “Lecture 9: Race, Ethnicity, Gender, and Class in Chocolate Advertisements.” Aframer 119x. CGIS, Cambridge. 30 Mar. 2016. Lecture.
Robertson, Emma. Chocolate, Women and Empire: A Social and Cultural History. 2010. 1-131. Print.
Silva, Tanya. “Chocolate, Orgasms, and Valentine’s Day.” Tanyasilva.com. N.p., n.d. Web. 6 Apr. 2016.