It’s no secret that chocolate companies have been using women in advertisements for several decades. Chocolate advertising was early feminized, starting with targeting women in the domestic sphere and then later transitioning to independent, working single women (Robertson, 2009: 35). In recent years, chocolate advertisement has also become increasingly sexualized and women’s sex appeal are advertised alongside chocolate to target consumers. Today, typical images in chocolate advertisements portray women as being irrational and impulsive, completely overtaken by their desire to indulge in chocolate. One example of this is the popular advertisement where a woman attempts to set the record for going the longest without closing her eyes and succeeds in doing so for several days, only to succumb at the end to a chocolate which is so good that it forces her to close her eyes as she enjoys the confection. When examining chocolate advertisements closely, one can see the subtle, implicit messages that could have lasting impact on how we think about identity and behaviors. As such, it is important to have a critical lens as a consumer in order to deconstruct harmful and problematic messages behind gendered advertisement.
In this post, I argue that when chocolate companies exploit gendered stereotypes for advertisements, this is not only degrading to women; but also imposes normative gender structures that reinforce hegemonic masculinity norms. To illustrate my point, I will use the case of Snickers’ “You’re Not you When You’re Hungry” campaign specifically to analyze how gendered marketing attacks imposes normative judgments and behavior regarding gender. In this post, I show four different video advertisements of of Snickers’ campaign and examine closely how they impose normative gender behavior by stigmatizing feminine qualities and glorifying aggressive masculinity.
Snickers, a chocolate product of Mars, launched their “You’re Not You When You’re Hungry” campaign at the Super Bowl in 2010, placing their advertisement front and center at the screen of millions of American viewers. Since that time, the logo has been wildly successful, raking in millions of dollars for Snickers. The effectively short and catchy logo helped Snickers recover from previously slow sales and increased its global sales by nearly sixteen percent. The logo has been widely appraised has also won several marketing awards, including Cannes Lions, The One Show, D&AD, and others. In an interview discussing this campaign with James Miller, the global head of strategy at Mars, he revealed that the catchy phrase helped establish both fame and brand loyalty for Snickers in a way that they were not able to do before. Interestingly, Snickers has been historically branded as a product for adult men. As Miller explains, Snickers looked to find a new approach and story that would connect with everyone. When coming up with the phrase “You’re Not you When You’re Hungry,” the marketing executives talked about a “universal code of conduct by which men abide to stay part of the male pack. This was globally consistent among men, but also something that everyone could recognize or identify with.” Using this concept, Snickers then capitalized on portraying emotional symptoms of hunger as being oppositional to this normative “code of conduct.” Miller states:
Whether you become cranky, weak or dopey, there are universal “symptoms” of hunger that can prevent a man from living up to the “male code.” But you don’t have to be a guy to recognize them. And, of course, Snickers, the substantial, nut-filled bar that has always been known for satisfying hunger, is the perfect antidote.
In this quote, Miller already presupposes that there is a “male code” — a code that would be broken when individuals experience emotions that would be interpreted as “cranky, weak or dopey.” By stating this, Miller implies that men by contrast (and by nature) should be strong, energetic, and sociable. By using this type of rhetoric, a Snickers bar has now been positioned to be seen as not only as an “antidote” to satisfying hunger but also a source of food that will make men fit with prosocial, masculine qualities. In the following videos below, I will further illustrate how this ideology is represented in Snickers’ advertising.
This video is one of Snickers’ first advertisements for the “You’re Not you When You’re Hungry” campaign and was aired during the Superbowl. It features Betty White, a popular celebrity. The set-up of the advertisement opens with a scene of grown men playing football on a field. Betty White soon enters the scene, dressed in a light blue sweater and matching pants. As she slowly walks across the grass trying to catch the football, she is aggressively tackled seconds later into the ground by a man on the opposing team. Afterwards, she is grilled by members on her own team who scold her for “playing like Betty White.” Betty fights back and bickers with her team member, before a young woman races up to her and offers her a snickers saying, “Baby, come here, eat a snickers.” After eating the bar, Betty White transforms into a young man–and enters the game feeling recharged and ready to play like his normal self again. The subtle and implied messaging in this video is problematic due to the way it portrays Betty White’s character as being weak, fragile, unhelpful, and argumentative.
To start, the choice of casting Betty White was a an extremely strategic on on Snickers’ part. Not only does her name and reputation help with the popularity of the advertisement, but her profile and identity as an older woman in itself adds a certain shock value to the commercial, prompting surprises in many viewers given the stark contrast between her condition and the condition of the other men. For example, it is atypical to find an elderly woman playing in a football game with men; even more, it is a bit startling to see an elderly woman being tackled down to the ground. As the viewer watches the video, there is a sense that Betty White should not be playing football with grown men given her age and lack of athletic ability. Unfortunately, this feeling is exactly what Snickers’ campaign is able to capitalize on and also why the campaign is so effective. By offering Betty White a snickers that transforms her into a man, Snickers shows who is considered suitable to be the football player: a man who is young, has energy, and is dependable. In this ad, viewers would finish watching thinking that men are not only better players, but that they should not be weak or fragile like women.
In this video, two stars, Aretha Franklin (singer) and Liza Minnelli (entertainer) ride in a car with men who are on a roadtrip together. The video starts with Aretha Franklin, who sits in the back seat of the car and asks if the air conditioning can be turned on. After the front passenger says, “it’s on, can’t you feel it?” Aretha then smacks him on the side of his head, saying, “ can you feel that?” The man next to Aretha then offers her a Snickers, saying, “Jeff, eat a Snickers please. Every time you get hungry you turn into a diva.” Aretha accepts the bars and after taking a bite magically turns into a young man who has seem to have lost his “diva” image. The video ends with the original front passenger having turned into Liza Minnelli, who then says with an annoyed look, “would you get your knees out of the back of my seat”? By offering a snickers as the antidote to remedying these symptoms of hunger, the video is sending the message that women are naggy and high-maintenance, which would break the “male code” and make them unsuitable for an activity like a road trip. Whereas before, Betty White was being criticized for being too weak, here, Aretha Franklin and Liza Minnelli are being criticized for their “diva” personas. It looks down on women who are vocal and portrays them as outspoken, demanding people who are not likeable. Similar to Betty White’s video, this ad sends the message that men should not possess these qualities.
In this advertisement, Snickers features Willem Dafoe (actor) who is dressed as the iconic Marilyn Monroe in full dress and heels. As he attempts to pose for photos, he is knocked off balance and seems uncomfortable standing on top a grate where below someone has a fan blowing air up his dress. This prompts him to angrily say, “This is a disaster! Who’s the genius who puts a girl in heels on a subway grate anyway?” Shortly, a staff member walks up to Willem and hands him a snickers, to say, “Miss Monroe, eat a Snickers. You get a little cranky when you’re hungry.” Following tradition, Willem takes a bit into the Snickers and magically transforms into Marilyn Monroe, smiling happily, and fitting right into character for the photoshoot.
This advertisement is interesting as it starts not with the woman, but the man. Even so, Willem is portrayed as having undesirable traits given that he is “cranky.” And further, what makes this advertisement slightly different from others is the image of Willem, a strong and muscular man wearing heels and a dress. The scene was most likely intended to be humorous, but is also imposes normative judgements about gender expression. By dressing Willem as Marilyn Monroe, this video attempts to make viewers feel that this is not what is considered “normal.” Men should not wear dresses and heels as this is directly oppositional to masculinity–this type of expression is only reserved for women like such as Marilyn Monroe. Messages like these and representation of these normative judgements are what contribute to gender binary ideology, restricting people’s imaginations and tolerance to a strict rules about gender expression and identity.
In this last video, we return to the sports field. This is an international ad, where a group of men are playing soccer. The victim in this video is the goalkeeper, who, unlike the soccer players is a woman in full makeup, dressed in traditional clothing. The video shows that she repeatedly isn’t able to block any of the incoming soccer balls and obviously out of place given what she’s wearing, which prompts an angry response from a team member who insults the goalkeeper by saying that his grandmother could do a better job. After some bickering, another team member comes up to the goalkeeper and says, “Joe you’re so weak when you’re hungry. Here you need a snickers.” Following with tradition, as the woman takes a bit she instantly transforms into a man who is actually dressed as a real goalkeeper and subsequently starts blocking several incoming soccer balls. This video is interesting because it adds not only a gendered aspect, but a racialized aspect as well. For Snickers, it wasn’t enough to have the goalkeeper be a woman, but she also needed to be dressed in a traditional garb to make her seem even more out of place. The gendered and racialized stereotype plays on tropes that have historically portrayed Asian women to be docile, submissive figures. The opposite, as displayed in the video, should be a strong man who is active and dependable.
As I have demonstrated through these videos, the campaign “You’re Not You When You’re Hungry” attacks femininity and promotes aggressive masculinity. In doing so, it reinforces normative gender roles by portraying how men should act, behave, and even dress. In addition, it sends messages that men are at the top of the social order, and that women offer no value to teams and organizations. This is harmful for both men and women and contributes to upholding a cis-hetero patriarchal order.