Chocolate is sinful and mature; it has the power to make people happy, especially women. That exact set of information could come from any chocolate commercial like the “Dove Senses” one linked above, but also came from three people interviewed on their relationship with chocolate both in their childhood. All three subjects came from different regions of the United States, were born in different generations, and were of different ethnicity and genders. Throughout the interviews conducted, chocolate was described as a happy food, lightening people’s moods and comforting them after long days of work. When remembering their childhood experiences with chocolate and their feelings about eating it as adults, they all thought it to be indulgent and somewhat sinful, two of the three linking chocolate with weight gain. Two of the three interviewees were born before 1985 and mentioned how chocolate commercials have markedly transitioned from focusing on children to more adult and mature marketing tropes. Lastly, in each interview, women were thought to enjoy and like chocolate more than men regardless of the gender of the interviewee. “Big chocolate” has taken these commonly held beliefs about chocolate and based their marketing off of it, and, in turn, has convinced an even larger audience that chocolate will make them happier, curb their desire, and is not just for children, but also adults.
The Butler’s Chocolates ad above assumes that giving a gift of chocolate is gifting happiness; all three interviewees would agree. One interviewer, Andrew*, would go so far as call it a “natural craving”; he believed that if you’ve eaten chocolate once, you want to eat it again, comparing it to a drug. Chocolate has been described as a drug, a craving, and an addiction, but the actual attraction that chocolate has to human taste buds is theorized to come from the high fat and sugar contents or its palatability (Benton 215). Because the body wants as much fat and sugar as possible for survival, it releases endorphins inside the brain making consumers happier and more energized. Endorphins allow the brain to understand and calculate faster and with ease which naturally makes people happier; chocolate being seen as a gift of happiness is not far off from the physiological and psychological truth (Wenk, 17). Humans naturally crave food, but crave chocolate more commonly than other foods because of its palatable contents like junk foods (Benton 206). Chocolate could not be considered as addictive though. Drugs of abuse release endorphins and dopamine into the brain similarly to chocolate, but the craving for these drugs after first-time usage comes from a place of loss rather than a physiological craving (Benton 215). When the brain recognizes that a food is high in fat and sugar content, it craves the food, sometimes without the subject ever tasting it; chocolate consumption has a physiological purpose to the human brain whereas drugs of abuse do not until used for a first time.
Although positive reactions were the first reactions to questions about chocolate, interviewees listed negative emotions and feelings as well. An interviewee, Matt, said that it sometimes made him feel fat, uncomfortable, and overwhelmed if he ate too much. The two others, Andrew and Jessica, linked chocolate to unhealthy weight gain and obesity, Jessica claiming it as a possible gateway food to an unhealthy lifestyle. Unprompted, negative reactions were listed after positive reactions felt about chocolate and its consumption. On the surface and in television commercials and ads, chocolate brings joy, happiness, and celebration, but consumers recognize the dark consequences of eating too much chocolate or becoming too reliant on it as a mood booster. Chocolate physiologically and psychologically makes people happy so marketers play off of it as a cure-all for a hard day or stressful week.
A Deadly Sin
In every interview, Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory was described as an important childhood memory of chocolate; the famous chocolate river surrounded by a confectionery forest is delightful to the eye and the stomach, leaving a lasting impression into adulthood. The film may have a sweet candy coating, but the theme itself is all sin. Throughout the film, spoiled kids get whisked away because of disrespect, gluttony, greed, pride, etc. The first of these exits by the character Augustus Gloop meant to portray gluttony. Note that of all the candies and confectioneries within the forest and river, the chocolate river is what destroys Augustus. As Wonka sits back and watches Augustus move towards and into the pipe, he casually begins to eat a chocolate bar cheekily saying, “The suspense is terrible… I hope it will last.” while the crowd of parents and children panic around him. The choice of a chocolate bar, rather than a colorful candy, shows how indulgent and unfazed he is even amidst panic and chaos. Chocolate here brings out the worst in Augustus and in Wonka and commercials like to take part in that as well. The “Dove Senses” commercial posed chocolate as indulgent, luxurious, and tempting, all more positive symbols of sinful behavior.
Matt’s first memory of chocolate was when he was about five years old; he had gone inside a convenience store with his mother and, on the way out, had grabbed and stolen a bag of Mars M&M’s. When his mother saw him eating them the in car on the way home, he denied that he had been eating chocolate and was marched straight back to the store to apologize for the theft. To Matt, chocolate has a vivid memory of guilt whereas the other two, Jessica and Andrew, negatively associated it with weight gain. Those who have more negative emotions about eating chocolate generally focus more on their health, dieting, and appearances (Benton 207). They are more likely to feel sick after eating chocolate and more often use a rationale like “to keep my energy levels up” to validate their chocolate consumption. The sinfulness and guilt associated with chocolate is transformed into indulgence, desire, and often lust to help marketers mask negative emotions or feelings from chocolate.
Chocolate Ads Then and Now
With both Jessica and Matt who were born before 1985, both remembered a distinct change in chocolate and confectionery commercials and ads from their childhoods to the current day. Chocolate ads during both of their childhoods were primarily concerned with marketing towards children using bright cartoon characters and catchy jingles. Commercials for chocolates currently have become distinctly more mature with references to pop culture, adult relationships, and the real world. Take a look at M&Ms commercials. The first one here was aired during the 1970s while the second ad was aired in April 2017:
You can immediately notice the distinct change of cartoon to CGI M&M people. Although that change does come with technological progression, the M&M men are placed in a modern world where things are not as forgiving or magical. Other M&Ms ads over the past six years have been similar, making their cartoon candy men into snarky, modern characters set in the real world. In the 1980s, the chocolate industry surged as the baby boomer generation became adults and continued to buy chocolate for themselves; “big chocolate” began to target adults with commercials during sports events, daily news programs, and weekly sitcoms (Winters). The target audience of chocolate commercials had grown up and so did their cartoon characters and tones. By the time the twenty-first century came around, commercials for chocolates were targeting both children and adults. More mature variations of chocolate like Dove sprung into the market and found success from a new generation of adults. When asked to recollect the evolution of chocolate marketing, both Jessica and Matt remarked on how many varieties of chocolate products have developed and the rainbow of candy wrapping colors in convenience stores. As the chocolate industry exploded so did the amount of possibilities; “big chocolate” started adding fruity and minty flavors, new textures, and larger sizes of candy bar for consumption. Almost any type of candy bar thought of is on the market today and has moved from its basic consumption during the 1960s and 1970s. “Big chocolate” had no choice when it made its marketing more mature. Its largest consumer group, the baby boomers, had become adults; to make the most profits, “big chocolate” would have to find a way to appeal to them, making chocolate a treat for both adults and children.
Women and Chocolate
Mature chocolate ads like the “Dove Senses” commercial usually depict women living luxuriously and indulging in sinful desires. Dove as a product exclusively targets adult women through their marketing as a product that will make women happy and more positive during their days. When asked during interviewing why people like chocolate, both Matt and Andrew expressed that women got more pleasure and consumed more chocolate than men. Although chocolate consumption by men and women is markedly the same, almost all chocolate ads targeting adults specifically target women or have a woman as the primary focus of the ad. With brands like Dove stressing the idea of chocolate for women, women may be physiologically and psychologically more drawn to chocolate than men. Palatable foods with high fat and sugar content like chocolate are most pleasurable when a subject is under some form of psychological stress. Hormonally, women are more often under psychological stress from menstrual cycles, pregnancy, and a higher likelihood for unipolar depression (Briollo and Di Renzo 166). Chocolate craving and consumption becomes more frequent before, during, and after menstrual cycles and also during pregnancy.
When asked about the time she ate the most chocolate in her life, Jessica said it was during her first pregnancy; she was craving chocolate all the time and every day. During pregnancy, rapid hormonal changes within the brain strike indicators of stress making the subject crave more palatable foods (Briollo and Di Renzo 170). Chocolate’s pleasurableness to eat and familiarity to women often leaves its mark in cravings. Chocolate consumption during pregnancy has been proven in multiple cases to be beneficial or relatively harmless, but it does boost the mental well-being of pregnant women and reduces stress. Women do find chocolate more pleasurable than men because of natural hormonal changes that induce physiological stress on the brain and body so they often crave chocolate more often than their male counterparts. The endorphins in chocolate reduce stress for both men and women, but more often in women because of physiological stress caused by menstruation and pregnancy. “Big chocolate” targets female consumers because women buy more chocolate than men, not because they consume more chocolate than men. Because of physiological stress, women are more likely to give in to buying chocolate on a craving over men although men and women consume about the same amount of chocolate each year.
Advertisements for chocolate are influenced by common beliefs about chocolate’s properties and characteristics. Chocolate does provide stress relief and boosts mood, but often makes people feel guilty for eating it, especially those focused on body image or weight loss. These advertisements target people’s already held beliefs and enhance them making chocolate seem almost lustful, overwhelmingly happy, and for every type of consumer. Chocolate ads have ditched their colorful cartoon imagery and swapped it for dry, realistic humor or sexual chocolate fantasies all because its consumer base began to age. Chocolate marketing has only swollen and spread commonly held beliefs and updated itself to stay current and sell to wider audiences. Matt, Andrew, and Jessica were all interviewed with twenty questions about their experiences, relationships, and reactions towards chocolate. The last question in the interview asked if they had any knowledge of cacao farming or production; all three interviewees had no knowledge of how chocolate is produced, yet could name specific chocolate commercials from their childhood forty or fifty years in the past. Commonly held beliefs about chocolate are informed by marketing and vice versa, but consumers of “big chocolate” know very little about the product they are actually buying.
*All names of those interviewed have been changed.
Benton, David. “The Biology and Psychology of Chocolate Craving.” Coffee, Tea, Chocolate, and the Brain. Ed. Astrid Nehlig. Boca Raton, FL: CRC, 2004. 205-18. Print.
Brillo, Eleonora, and Gian Carlo Di Renzo. “Chocolate, Cocoa and Women’s Health.”Chocolate and Health: Chemistry, Nutrition and Therapy. By Philip K. Wilson. London: Royal Society of Chemistry, 2015. 160-72. Print.
Wenk, Gary L. “Euphoria, Depression, & Madness.” Your Brain on Food: How Chemicals Control Your Thoughts and Feelings. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2015. N. pag. Print.
Winters, Patricia. “Chocolate Marketing No Longer Kids’ Stuff.” Advertising Age 57.31 (1986): 22. Web.