When it comes to buying chocolate consumers are overwhelmed with choices. There are hundreds of different products available at just one store. Dark, milk, white, nutty, fruity, extra sweet, extra dark, candy bar, chocolate bar; all of these come crashing together in one space where the consumer is forced to decide which one will win out among the rest. There are multiple ways that chocolate marketers entice consumers. They use celebrity sponsors, flashy advertising, appeal to certain market segments, and tug on the consumer’s emotions; but all of these tactics can overwhelm the consumer and hide the truth about the products. An analytical investigation reveals that there are four themes that stand out in chocolate marketing.
Strategy #1: Target Your Biggest Market
The largest demographic segment of the chocolate market is women. It has traditionally been thought of as a typical treat for women, but one has to question if this market structure is a result of an actual desire for chocolate by this gender, or if it was socially constructed years before. As Emma Robertson notes in her book Chocolate, Women and Empire since the nineteenth-century women have been the focus for advertisers. During this time, women were constantly told that cocoa was good and wholesome for their families through advertising campaigns. This began the long historical connection between chocolate and the housewife.
Today, mothers are still told that chocolate is what they should be giving their children. Advertisements from Nestlé’s Nesquik, specifically tell mothers that their chocolate milk is nutritious for children. Unfortunately, they rarely disclose in their advertisements that their products contain about half of the recommended daily amount of sugar for kids. Instead, mothers are shown having happy interactions with their children when they give them these chocolate products. This is a strategic move on the part of marketers because every mother wants to give their child something that they believe will make them happy and healthy. However, housewives are not the only segment of the female population that is targeted in chocolate marketing.
Single women are often the ones portrayed eating chocolate in advertisements. In a recent ad from Hershey’s they are selling two of their classic chocolate bars, but only women are shown enjoying the treats. The fifteen-second ad is very revealing because it perpetuates the image that women are the ones who enjoy chocolate the most. It would have been very easy to have a man eat part of the chocolate bar but it was a clear choice by Hershey’s to exclude men. To a chocolate marketer, men constitute only a small portion of the chocolate market, thus they are rarely included in advertisements.
Most chocolate advertisements not only focus on women but also focus on the emotions of women. In the 2015 Super Bowl ad for Snickers, the actor Danny Trejo portrays a hungry Marcia Brady, from the classic American television show The Brady Bunch. Mrs. Brady informs her daughter that she can be hostile when she is hungry, but the Snickers bar turns Marcia Brady back into her chipper self after she eats it. This idea that women will calm down if they have chocolate is another common theme used in marketing chocolate. Women are frequently shown to have their moods altered just by consuming chocolate. They are sold the idea that chocolate can provide you with an emotional or biological experience.
Strategy #2: Packaging Sells
Another strategy that marketers commonly use is creative packaging to make their product stand out among all of the other options. If one walks down the chocolate aisle at any store they will see that all of the chocolate is packaged very differently. Some use bright colors to grab attention, while others have artistic images or use creative fonts. This is important when marketing chocolate because the packaging also denotes who the target audience is. Products wrapped in gold or high-gloss packaging can signal that the company is trying to convey the message that this is a quality product and they are trying to target a luxury consumer. Companies understand that the consumers are not likely to research the quality of the product; therefore the quality of the packaging and the information on the packaging is what will sell the product.
A key segment of the chocolate market is the eco-friendly consumer, who will inspect the packaging of the product to make sure the company shares their values. This can involve looking at the packaging to see if it uses sustainable materials, checking the label certifications, or seeing if the company supports the same causes as they do. Purchasing a product is often an emotional experience. If the consumer is purchasing a chocolate without knowing how it tastes, their decision will also be based on whether the packaging grabbed their attention and made them feel a connection to the product.
Strategy #3: Play on Your Consumer’s Emotions
Emotions are a key factor when it comes to decision-making. Marketers know that people’s beliefs and feelings will sell products and subsequently, will support causes outside of their industry to make their product stand out among the competition. This is common in the chocolate industry that companies will support other causes in order to lure customers in to support their brand. The moist poignant example is Endangered Species Chocolate, who uses a social cause as their key marketing strategy.
“A snack that gives back”; Endangered Species Chocolate promises their customers that 10% of their net profits each year will be donated to their wildlife conservation partners. They have had a wide variety of partners over the years, which include organizations that help animals in every ecosystem. This is a very clever marketing strategy because it connects their chocolate with a deeper purpose. The consumer feels like they are making a difference in the world if they are buying this chocolate, which is a compelling sales strategy. Endangered Species Chocolate further cements the emotional connection to the product by putting images of animals on every one of their products. While this is a very clear strategy to drive sales, the company is also transparent about the impact their donations have each year by publishing an annual impact report.
Divine Chocolate also uses social causes as a marketing strategy to sell their chocolate. Their chocolate bars are branded as being owned by cocoa farmers and they seek to empower women. Cocoa farming has traditionally been thought of as mainly an industry for men and women have been overlooked. Divine Chocolate changes this common chocolate dichotomy by emphasizing the important roles that women have in cocoa farming. Their advertisements often show African women as strong, well-dressed intelligent women, a stark contrast to the typical primitive images of women in Africa. As Kristy Leissle notes Divine’s advertisements, “reframe Africa’s role in modernity, creating an alluring female figure that envisions and promotes Africa’s contributions to industrial production and luxury consumption.” By changing the typical narrative of chocolate, Divine Chocolate is creating social change. However, these advertisements that inspire change also play into the consumer’s emotions, which was created to highlight the company’s “unique selling point.” Divine Chocolate understands that their ethical values as a company are a selling feature for their products, and as a result, they use these values as a marketing tool.
Strategy #4: Certify Everything
The final, and perhaps most contemporary, marketing tool that marketers use when selling chocolate are all of the different certifications that can appear on the packaging of products. Ideally, one would not have to be concerned about the treatment of farmers or the quality of the ingredients. If that were the case we would not need labels to tell us that this product is not harming the environment, but consumers do not automatically trust that a company will be ethical in their business practices. Consequently, there are many different certifications available: Fair Trade, Certified Organic, Non-GMO Verified, Direct Trade, Certified Vegan, Certified Gluten Free, among many others. For all of these certifications companies and farmers have to pay annual fees and meet certain standards to become a part of these organizations and as a result, they are allowed to use the corresponding label that they qualified for on their products. While the certifications have good intentions they have become a marketing ploy, and one could argue that the labels do not actually benefit the farmers or producers in the altruistic way that is intended.
The Fair Trade certification was created to help farmers improve their lives and ensure fair prices for their products, but these goals have not been realized. It has been found that farmers are not earning more money, the quality of products has not improved, and they do not monitor standards in the way that was promised. This is a significant problem for farmers because they spend a great deal of money to become Fair Trade certified but they are not receiving the benefits that were espoused. Since the economic burden is so substantial many farmers opt out of the certification because they will make more money without it. However, many consumers do not realize that certification labels like Fair Trade are failing to adhere to their promises.
Certifications labels were created to inform consumers that products were ethical in their origin. Nico Roozen and Frans van der Hoff created the first quality label called Max Havelaar. Along with Albert Heijn, in 1988 they launched the first coffee brand that was labeled fair, Max Havelaar coffee. The brand became so successful that more products began displaying the Max Havelaar label throughout Europe and North America. As a result of the popularity of the Max Havelaar label, more certifications have been created. While these certification organizations have good intentions, they have also become an extremely successful marketing tool. Companies have seen large spikes in sales as a result of these labels, but there is the potential for this growth to stop.
The average consumer does not know the requirements for certification for the majority of the programs that exists. They just assume that a Fair Trade or organic label denotes an ethical or high-quality product. But now that more certifications exist, companies will put multiple certifications on one product potentially confusing the consumer. As Ndongo Samba Sylla notes, companies run the risk of diluting the meaning of these labels by placing too many on one package. By placing so many certifications on one product, the labels begin to be arbitrary and reveal their true purpose, which is a sales device.
Is Chocolate Marketing All a Façade?
With all of these marketing strategies, it begins to look like there is a lack of honesty in the marketing industry. As a result, consumers are left to wonder if they are simply being sold lies. It is true that chocolate marketers will exploit every angle they can in order to sell you a product but they are not necessarily acting unethically, they are just doing their job. Companies need to push boundaries in order to set themselves apart from all of the competition. Ultimately a company cannot be altruistic without selling their products, thus earning the additional money necessary to meet their charity goals. The chocolate industry is a highly competitive world and it is important as a consumer to not get caught up in the strategies that companies implement.
In order to be mislead by all of the marketing schemes, consumers need to do their homework when searching for the chocolate product they want to purchase. There are honest chocolate companies that are very transparent about their processes and openly publish company information. For example, Theo Chocolate is proud to share information about their passions for chocolate and changing the world. On their website they are open about where their beans are sourced from and share their pricing structure publically. In addition, Taza Chocolate publishes a direct trade transparency report that details where they are buying their cacao and from whom. The reports often list farmers by name, giving the consumer more knowledge than is usually possible with the food industry.
While both Taza Chocolate and Theo Chocolate still market their chocolate like any other business would, they also publish information about their respective business practices, which indicates that they are open to additional conversations about their methods. Their honesty is a refreshing change in the chocolate industry. Although transparency is not commonly employed in marketing chocolate, by clearly understanding the tools that companies use to sell their products a consumer can look past all of the sales techniques and find the chocolate product that is right for them.
 Emma Robertson, Chocolate, Women and Empire: A Social and Cultural History (Manchester University Press: New York, 2009), 20.
 “Sugar Recommendation Healthy Kids and Teens Infographic”, American Heart Association, accessed May 1, 2017, http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/HealthyLiving/HealthyEating/Nutrition/Sugar-Recommendation-Healthy-Kids-and-Teens-Infographic_UCM_487755_SubHomePage.jsp.
 Endangered Species Report, Impact Report 2016, Accessed May 2, 2017,
 Divine Chocolate, “Empowering Women”, accessed May 2, 2017, http://www.divinechocolate.com/us/about-us/TrainingWomen.
 Kirsty Leissle, “Cosmopolitan Cocoa Farmers: Refashioning Africa in Divine Chocolate Advertisements”, Journal of African Cultural Studies, 24:2, 123.
 “Mission/Values”, Fair Trade USA, accessed May 2, 2017. https://fairtradeusa.org/about-fair-trade-usa/mission.
 Carla D. Martin, “Alternative Trade and Virtuous Localization/Globalization” (Lecture Slides, Chocolate Culture and the Politics of Food, Cambridge, MA, April 5, 2017), Slide 11, accessed May 2, 2017, https://docs.google.com/presentation/d/1CkKtJa-PLeSsmfsrheoSqdO2gT7yiizxE7x0DmcwcKA/edit#slide=id.g12aecdfb3_057.
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 Ndongo Samba Sylla, The Fair Trade Scandal: Marketing Poverty To Benefit The Rich (Ohio University Press: Athens, 2014), 70-71.
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Sylla, The Fair Trade Scandal, 133.
 “Taza Direct Trade”, Taza Chocolate, accessed May 3, 2017, https://www.tazachocolate.com/pages/taza-direct-trade.
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