Chocolate is recognized as one of the most craved foods in the world, resulting in the coinage of terms such as chocoholic or chocolate addict. However, going from targeted marketing by most chocolate companies around the world, one would assume that the majority of the chocolate addicts or chocoholics were, women. As soon as a woman takes her first bite, in an advertisement, a sense of ecstasy follows triggered by the chocolate, invariably showing the relationship between women’s sexual pleasure and chocolate. Women’s sexual pleasure, much like the attitude towards chocolate, is considered sinful; the juxtaposition of these two views woven into narratives through chocolate commercials, only solidifies the concept of “naughty but nice” as they objectify women sexually while they are consuming chocolate.
Women tend to be sexually depicted in commercials in two ways, one, in which women are aroused by consuming chocolate, or two, women become attractive to men after they consume chocolate. Below are examples of two ads from Dove and Godiva that exemplify these two categories of portrayal of women in chocolate advertising.
In both the commercials, chocolate is seen as a sinful treat that women consume. In the first Dove commercial, a woman is being wrapped in chocolate coloured silk as she sighs and savors the luxury of consuming chocolate whilst being wrapped around by a luxurious fabric. It is depicting the after effects of consuming the chocolate whilst showing what a privilege it is to be able to consume chocolate. The background music and noises further alludes to the effect of sexual arousal post consumption and the use of silk in the commercial shows luxury and class, and at the same time, it represents a material that is often used to portray sex. In the Godiva commercial, three women are shown in three different locations wearing long dresses that represent three kinds of Godiva chocolates; dark, milk and white. Three men can be seen gifting chocolates to the women, which in turn sexually arouses the women and thus excites the men. It is interesting to note that the commercial does not show men consuming the chocolate, but only women. In one instance in the commercial, one of the women almost shares the chocolate with the man but then teases him as she eats the whole truffle herself, because she just cannot share it or resist it.
Professor Peter Rogers, from the University of Bristol, explains: “A more compelling explanation lies in our ambivalent attitudes towards chocolate – it is highly desired but should be eaten with restraint”, he further states that “Our unfulfilled desire to eat chocolate, resulting from restraint, is thus experienced as craving, which in turn is attributed to ‘addiction’.” (Rogers, 2007) Women in the above commercials depict this relationship of resistance and indulgence with chocolate, not only through the consumption of chocolate itself but also through their sexual desires. Due to the perception that “nice” women and their sexual pleasures should be restrained as opposed to men’s sexual pleasures, chocolate gives them the narrative, the chance of indulgence, and gives them the opportunity to be “naughty”. Chocolate then starts to show women’s relationship with their own sexual desires, that relies on chocolate to be fueled.
Chocolate, then hence is portrayed to being the food for women by commercials. In contrast, a Burger King commercial shows meat as the food for men, aptly titled “I am Man”. The commercial shows men eating burgers while chanting socially accepted norms that make them men; these are men who are strong and can lift cars and pull heavy weights, men who cannot survive on “chick food” such as quiche. Commercials such as the one by Hungry Man, as well as Mc Donald’s McRib advertisement, show only men, consuming meat products. When catered to men such as the ones that are shown in these commercials, chocolate becomes delicate and feminine. When contrasted, meat becomes the socially accepted food for men while chocolate becomes the socially accepted food for women.
Without any concrete scientific evidence, chocolate is now widely believed to be craved by women more than men. Dr. Julia Hormes from University of Albany states in her study published in Appetite in 2011 that “half of the women [in the U.S.] who crave chocolate say they do so right around menstruation,”. (Hormes, 2011) Hormes’s study tried to correlate menstruation with chocolate craving however, she arrived at the conclusion that “These biochemical, physiological hypotheses didn’t pan out.” (Hormes, 2011) Hormes believes that the strong influence of culture, particularly the kind portrayed in commercials plays a role in how women tend to react to chocolate.
In an interview with Kate Bratskeir of Huffington Post, Hormes talks about chocolate marketing, she says;
“Chocolate is marketed as a way for women to deal with negative emotion (like, say, the stress and headaches that come with PMS), Hormes said. It is an “indulgence” because it is an exception to the rule — women who diet and subscribe to a certain ideal of beauty should only consume chocolate when they “need” it.”…“Only in America. In Spain, for example, women don’t report craving chocolate perimensturally nearly as much as women in the U.S. do. It’s not that Spanish women have a different make-up to their cycle, it’s really that tampon and chocolate ads aren’t aired during the same commercial break. In the U.S., it seems, there’s something so strongly feminine about chocolate that fewer men report wanting it. But, “Spanish men are almost as likely to crave chocolate as Spanish women.” In Egypt, neither men nor women really report craving chocolate; “They tend to crave savory foods,” Hormes said.” (Hormes, 2011)
The need that is described above by Hormes is a culturally manufactured one that is fabricated through commercials showing women needing chocolates, specially when it comes to sex.
Chocolate advertisements not only play into women’s sexual desires but also women’s body image and various insecurities. The above print ad from Ferrero Rocher shows a naked model being tempted by chocolates that are growing from the tree. The ad is attaching the narrative of Eve and the forbidden fruit to chocolate, depicting this woman as a “sinner” for consuming chocolate and having sexual desires. The ad also shows a skinny model indulging in the sinful act of consuming chocolate. The inclusion of a model, gives off an image that makes it okay for women of regular sizes to indulge in chocolate. It shows that women can still be thin and be naughty, and consume chocolate as a guilty pleasure. While talking about the relationship of female body image and chocolate marketing, in his paper, Occidental College student, Jamal Fahim writes,
“In order to remain slim and attractive, women must avoid foods that are high in fat, sugar and calories. Images of the ideal body have permeated the minds of many consumers who are inclined to view the body as an object of admiration and a model for self-construction. Moreover, consumer goods may serve to compensate for a person’s “feelings of inferiority, insecurity or loss, or to symbolize achievement, success or power” (Campbell 1995:111)”.
Chocolate companies tend to play up various different feelings that Campbell described whilst talking about consumer products, however in most cases those feelings within the wide spectrum from insecurity to success are usually related to sex and women in chocolate advertising. The print Dove advertisement above, for example, associates itself with an insecurity that is often linked with sex, lasting longer. The ad compares indulging the Dove bar to lasting longer while showing the face of a woman who is satisfied.
All the advertisements mentioned above adds to the misconception of chocolate as an aphrodisiac and that it works more on women. The New York Times article, tries to evaluate this claim stating;
“Nowadays, scientists ascribe the aphrodisiac qualities of chocolate, if any, to two chemicals it contains. One, tryptophan, is a building block of serotonin, a brain chemical involved in sexual arousal. The other, phenylethylamine, a stimulant related to amphetamine, is released in the brain when people fall in love. But most researchers believe that the amounts of these substances in chocolate are too small to have any measurable effect on desire. Studies that have looked for a direct link between chocolate consumption and heightened sexual arousal have found none. The most recent study, published in May in the journal Sexual Medicine, looked specifically at women, who are thought to be more sensitive to the effects of chocolate. The researchers, from Italy, studied a random sample of 163 adult women with an average age of 35 and found no significant differences between reported rates of sexual arousal or distress among those who regularly consumed one serving of chocolate a day, those who consumed three or more servings or those who generally consumed none.” (O’ Connor, 2006)
The article concludes by stating that, “if chocolate has any aphrodisiac qualities, they are probably psychological, not physiological” (O’ Connor, 2006).
This psychological perception of chocolate and sex is one that is manufactured by chocolate advertising bringing out various themes that are associated with female sexuality starting from the perception that female sexual desires are akin to a sin, to body image issues that perpetuates women’s need to be slim to various other insecurities associated with sex such as lasting longer or overall satisfaction. Even though the findings and correlation between chocolate and sex are negligible, the marketing for chocolate continues to perpetuate chocolate’s association with sex and its implied special relevance to women’s sexuality as it plays into societal expectations from women, that require them to be and make them more attractive if they are “naughty but nice”.
Bratskeir, Kate. “This Is Why Women Crave Chocolate, Men Want A Burger” Huffington Post. 2014. <http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/11/10/chocolate-craving-pms-men-vegetables_n_6102714.html>
Campbell, Colin. 1995. “The Sociology of Consumption.” Acknowledging Consumption: A Review of New Studies. London, England: Routledge.
Fahim, Jamal, “Beyond Cravings: Gender and Class Desires in Chocolate Marketing”. 2010. Sociology Student Scholarship <http://scholar.oxy.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1002&context=sociology_student>
Hormes, Julia M, Alix Timko. “All cravings are not created equal. Correlates of menstrual versus non-cyclic chocolate craving”. Appetite. Vol 57. 2011. <https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21440592>
Lindell, C. Women and chocolate: A history lesson. Candy Industry, 180(3), 21. 2015
O’Connor, Anahad. “The Claim: Chocolate Is an Aphrodisiac”. The New York Times. 2006. <http://www.nytimes.com/2006/07/18/health/18real.html>
Robertson, Emma. Chocolate, Women, and Empire. New York: Manchester UP, 2009.
University of Bristol. “Chocolate Is The Most Widely Craved Food, But Is It Really Addictive?.” ScienceDaily. September 2007. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/09/070911073921.htm>.