Critique of the Chocolate Advertising Industry

Brief overview of the history of the cacao-chocolate industry.

The history of the cacao industry has been plagued by extreme exploitation since the very beginning. Ever since European colonists discovered the cacao seed, the industry has been flooded with slavery, abuse, and mistreatment. Spanish settlers were quick to implement the encomienda, a system in which the Spanish Crown declared that colonists in America had the right to demand tribute and forced labor from the indigenous inhabitants of a given area. This ultimately led to a demographic collapse and the usurpation of indigenous land in Central and South America. (Lecture 9) The global cacao industry was able to further develop on years and years of chattel slavery, in which colonists used the indigenous as “personal property.” In fact, it took the labor of about fifty-thousand enslaved Africans to produce the 20,000 tons of sugar that the English consumers demanded per year. Indeed, the growing major economies of the world relied heavily on the backs of enslaved cacao farmers, as slavery was one of the major vehicles that allowed chocolate to become as incredibly popular as it is today.

How does advertising come into play?

Although there is no legitimate or feasible means to reverse the damage of the exploitation inherent to the chocolate industry, there are some tactics that major corporations can use mitigate the residual effects of chocolate’s disturbing history. Alas, a major avenue to achieve such repair is through advertising, an industry which is currently worsening chocolate’s tainted reputation and history.

Today, the advertising industry fails to acknowledge the pressing historical and current-day issues with slavery in the cacao supply chain. Marketers believe that the sole purpose of an advertisement is to deal with the promotion and selling of chocolate by any means possible. As such, prominent chocolate companies have shown little if any effort to use ads to improve or raise awareness of the child slavery situation that currently plagues their industry. If it were somehow mandated for every chocolate company to produce ads acknowledging slavery in the cacao-chocolate industry, this unfortunate reality would be acknowledged, more heavily funded, and greatly improved.

While the average American may be unaware of such issues, or the fact that the entire industry was built on the backs of slavery and exploitation, they are certainly aware that Dove chocolate makes a suiting Valentine’s gift and that Reese’s are a hit on Halloween. This utter lack of knowledge and awareness by the general public is a major result and fault of the chocolate advertising industry at large.

It is the opinion of this particular author that advertising can be successfully used to educate the general population on the realities, or horrors, of the industry, therefore providing an opportunity for the companies with the most morally-sound supply chains (all the way from the farm to the shelves) to assert themselves to the forefront of the industry. A situation in which the morality of a company’s supply chain becomes a major advertising tool and selling point could create an arms race for the most fairly produced and high quality chocolates – in doing so, eradicating some of the economic, social, and political issues that are worsened by the exploitation of today’s cacao farmers in Africa. While the historic slavery issue may be too difficult to tackle or correct in this day and age, marketing is a powerful tool that the industry can use to spread awareness about the current slavery and exploitation issues, in a way ridding itself of the guilt of its dark history.

As such, the major goal of this essay is to assert that advertising in the cacao-chocolate industry should be used to acknowledge the history of slavery in the industry and as a tool to combat the current child slavery that exists today. The way in which chocolate advertising currently functions must change. Not only does it simply ignore the issue of slavery, it exacerbates certain stereotypes surrounding race and gender.

Stereotyping in the advertisement of chocolate.

Instead of using advertising to strategically address child slavery issues in the cacao farming industry, as suggested above, the chocolate advertising campaigns encourage preexisting societal deficiencies like racism and sexism through stereotypical depictions of these social dynamics in their ads and commercials. Subtle racial stereotypes portrayed in several chocolate advertising campaigns are spread to large volumes of people and, as such, promulgate racism in our society. To understand how subtle racism spreads via the chocolate advertising industry, one can look to the cartoon advertisement by Conguitos, a Spanish chocolate. Firstly, note that the shapes of these chocolates were made to replicate the heads of Conoglese babies, making Conguitos a company that was founded on the basis of racial stereotypes. Yet, even if you ignore this fact, the advertisement of their Conguitos characters has remained a source of painfully obvious racial stereotyping.

(Picture from lecture)

In analyzing the characterization of this cartoon, the Conguitos advertising promotes inaccurate and harmful stereotypes associated with African males.  The ridiculous emphasis of lip size and hat style is insulting and further pushes the association of these stereotypes with black males. In a society striving to eradicate racial stereotypes and promote equality across the board, this kind of advertising must be made illegal.

In addition to preventing the kind of racial stereotypes that the chocolate industry promotes through its advertisement, we as a society are obligated to eradicate the gender stereotypes that exist in chocolate advertising as well. The video below exemplifies a classic instance of gender stereotype created by the chocolate industry.

The chocolate industry has successfully created and promoted the myth that women can be seduced by a piece of candy. This is both degrading to women and detrimental to our collective societal goal of creating a society that is accepting of all genders and identities. As such, these types of advertisements are counter to the steps we are trying to take in this capacity.

In conclusion…

This essay confronts the two major issues in advertising campaigns carried out by major chocolate companies. The first issue is that the chocolate industry has not even attempted to use advertising, its most powerful tool, to combat slavery, its darkest secret. (Both historically and today.) Another pressing issue, in addition to this, is that advertising used by chocolate companies promotes racial and gender stereotypes to an incredibly large audience and broad scope. Characterizing chocolate cartoons with big lips and sideways hats, and airing commercials with women in lingerie tantalized by the mere taste of chocolate, are a few of the many examples of issues that must be addressed and drastically improved.

The one breath of hope for advertising in the chocolate industry is the enormous capacity for this particular outlet to make a legitimate change. These corporations could easily use their money, popularity, and influence to create an advertising platform that raises awareness about the child slavery epidemic in the cocoa industry. In doing so, the most fairly traded chocolate corporations could take a step ahead of the rest of the competition by promoting their product as not only the most delicious chocolate on the market, but the chocolate that provides the most hope, the one that stood up against slavery and helped to put an end to it. This the only kind of advertising that can help to fix the industry and all of the issues it creates – and is the only kind of advertising that the chocolate world desperately needs.


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