It’s finals period. I want chocolate, you want chocolate, everyone wants chocolate. But, it’s not as simple as it sounds – we are people of the 21st century, we have options. I’m not just going to go to the store and buy a bag of generic “Chocolate,” no, I’m going to weigh my options. Do I want the smooth milky taste of a Hershey’s bar, or do I want a euphoric crunchiness with each bite with a Crunch bar? But, there is more to this selection than just pure taste and texture. As the chocolate market grows increasingly competitive, marketing strategies have to evolve as well. Some chocolate companies try to market their products as worthy impulses, and others have taken the approach of appealing to your innate desire to help others, by advertising their chocolates as synonymous to charity.
At the end of the day, you’re not just buying chocolate – you’re buying happiness. Short-term, immediate happiness. Each chocolate company takes you to a magical world, where everything is good. So, what is this ultimate and magical “good?” That depends on which chocolate company you ask. Chocolate companies such as Hershey’s and Cadbury paint a more personal view of happiness, while other companies such as Endangered Species Chocolate and Taza promote a wider utopian view of worldwide harmony, where all people and animals live in harmony with mutual respect for each other. But the point of this blog post is not to discuss which view is more correct, but rather which one has more influence among consumers. Before beginning, I will make my bias clear: I love chocolate. The more sugar, the better. I primarily care about taste. I will demonstrate how my view is a commonly held one, and that the average consumer, or at least those willing to voice their opinions, do not prioritize environmental or social impacts. I will do so using these four mentioned companies as case studies, as a representative sample of the greater chocolate industry.
To begin, let us take a look at how these four companies promise to bring about happiness. Hershey’s explicitly states that its product is designed with the consumer’s happiness in mind. Its website features a promotional video, equating the word “Hershey’s” to simplicity, deliciousness, and happiness. Its website goes on further to describe how its founder, Milton Hershey, was someone who always had other people’s happiness in mind, “Milton Hershey believed that everyone should have the choice to be happy, and enjoy simple goodness,” (Hershey’s). It further goes on to suggest that consuming its product is the key to happiness, saying “Thanks to Milton’s vision, we remind ourselves everyday that we always have a choice about how we feel – and so do you. So why not say hello to happy?” The Hershey company paints its product as a euphoric snack, an item unlocking the door to carefree happiness, and this is further exemplified by their amusement park, the self-proclaimed “Sweetest Place On Earth.” Yes, its website does mention the Milton Hershey School for orphan boys, but this is not featured on its website nearly as predominantly as its promise of delivering happiness. Cadbury, too, promotes itself to the individual’s self-interest, equating its brand with “fun.” Its website’s homepage boldly features the promise of its chocolate being full of fun, and invites consumers to participate with the hashtag: #CADBURYWORLD. Cadbury also features an amusement park, which promises to “whisk you away on an adventurous journey,” with some of its attractions being described as “a magical journey full of surprises,” ultimately declaring that “It’s great fun – especially for kids,” (Cadbury). Both Cadbury and Hershey’s sell their products as opportunities to enjoy life more, via fun or happiness, and both promote a sense of a better life for the individual consumer.
Companies such as Taza and Endangered Species Chocolate, however, advertise themselves as an opportunity for their consumers to feel good about themselves, by participating in a cause improving the lives of others. Endangered Species Chocolate’s website features its “Promise” as the first link on the website, in which it promotes its giveback of 10% of net profits to its GiveBack partners. It also lists how it supports farmers (notably at a cost to itself), and shares links for the animal organizations it’s donating to, complete with cute animal photos encoded with relevant links. Further, even on its specific product information pages, it focuses just as much, if not more, on the animals associated with the product as the product itself, even if the connection between the chocolate and the specific animal is unclear. Its products feature pictures of sad-eyed animals that are pleading for your help, and even the brand’s name makes it clear that purchasing this product is not just about chocolate – it is about the difference you can make. Investing in Endangered Species Chocolate is more than just purchasing a snack, it is about saving the planet. Endangered Species Chocolate utilizes altruism to promise a fulfilling snacking experience, so that its consumers know their snack did so much more good in the world than just satisfy their hunger (or sweet-tooth). This type of “poverty porn” makes it easy for consumers to feel good about themselves, all you have to do is buy the ‘charity’ product, “and you’ve done a thing,” (Dortonne). Taza chocolate too promotes itself as a “pioneer in ethical cacao sourcing,” (Taza), claiming to have a deep concern for its laborers and the environment. Taza utilizes both altruism and personal investment to sell its products, with claims of both quality and sustainability.
Now that I’ve established how these companies attempt to advertise their chocolate, let’s take a look at how effective they are. To do so, we will look at how consumers view their products, by viewing customer comments of their products, and by interviewing self-proclaimed chocolatiers and chocoholics (note: I will change the names of the interviewees, for anonymity). To begin with, let us look at how these products are reviewed by consumers, by using Amazon comments as a sample of opinions. Hershey’s chocolate bars are given generally positive reviews. The user Natasha says that the products are great for sharing with your whole family; a nameless user commented that the products were loved by his girlfriend (and followed it with a winky face); and the user Western Trans even commented that the Hershey’s products are an “instant happy for my sister,” (Amazon, HERSHEY’S Milk Chocolate Bars). Similarly, with Cadbury products, consumers focused on the taste and overall personal experiences. The user Andrew W. comments on how having Cadbury chocolate again was a nostalgic experience, which brought him back to loving the same product during his childhood (Amazon, Original Cadbury Creme Egg); user P. Breeds calls them luxurious treats that need to be hidden from his children (followed by a smiley face), (Amazon, Cadburys Chocolate Spread); and user Angilena even thanks Cadbury: “thanks for making our dreams of eating this again come true,” (Amazon, Cadbury Dairy Milk Egg ‘n’ Spoon with Oreo). The comments clearly center around the taste and the overall personal experiences resulting from the chocolates, exactly what Hershey’s and Cadbury’s advertisements promote. Their consumers comment on their products in the way they were marketed, indicating that the two companies’ marketing strategies are effective in influencing the way consumers interact with their products. Similarly, the reviews for Taza and Endangered Species Chocolate focus on the taste of the products. However, while Hershey’s and Cadbury promote these aspects of their products, Taza and Endangered Species Chocolate do not do so as prevalently. In Amazon’s top comments for Taza Wicked Dark Chocolate, there is not one single mention of their direct trade policies or their role as an ethical cacao sourcing pioneer; instead, comments focus on taste. Further, in Amazon’s top comments for Endangered Species Panther’s Dark Chocolate bar, only two comments even mention their charitable nature, and both only do so tangentially. User ZapNZs writes a comment entirely void of Endangered Species Chocolate’s good cause, but does refer to it as so in the last five words of his 18-word title (Amazon, Endangered Species Panther, Dark Chocolate). Similarly, Lizzy Throckmorton writes in a Facebook review that Endangered Species Chocolate is delicious, and then ends her comment with “The fact that a portion of the proceeds goes to a very worthy cause is just icing on the cake,” (Facebook, review of Endangered Species Chocolate). None of the comments focus on the charitable aspect of Endangered Species Chocolate, and at most mention it in passing, or humorously to justify consuming the product.
In an interview with Julia, a self-proclaimed chocolatier, I asked for her opinions on these brands. Regarding Hershey’s, Julia said, “My mom would only give it to me during special occasions, and those were always so much fun… Hershey’s reminds me of playing with my sister and mother!” Then, when I asked her about the Endangered Species Chocolate, she had not heard of the brand. After purchasing one for her, she said “What does the chocolate have to do with the animal? … It tastes fine, but if I really wanted to protect the animals, I’d donate all of the money [I spent on the chocolate bar] directly to their organizations, not just 10%.” In this interview, Julia followed the trend of focusing on taste and personal memories instead of the intended cause of Endangered Species Chocolate, and also had the reaction to Hershey’s intended from its advertisement plans. Similarly, in an interview with David, a self-proclaimed chocoholic, I asked the same questions. Growing up in England, he had fond memories of Cadbury products more so than Hershey’s: “Cadbury [chocolates] were simply delightful. My dad would bring some home when he came home from work, so it always reminds me of spending time with him.” When asked about Endangered Species Chocolate, he said “I think it’s a wonderful cause, I love how they’re supporting the animals!” Yet, upon asking him if he’d ever purchased an Endangered Species Chocolate product, he said “I never really considered buying it.”
Thus, it is clear that marketing chocolate as a charity instead of a source of personal enjoyment has not proven effective by these measures. However, it is important to ask if this is specific to chocolate, or just the nature of online commentary. To do this, I will compare chocolate Brand Aid products to Brand Aid products of a different type of product: footwear. Take the well-known example of TOMS shoes, a famous company whose main slogan of “one for one” refers to how it donates a pair of shoes to children in Africa for every pair of TOMS shoes purchased. TOMS will serve as a strong comparison point because it is also a company that promotes itself as a charitable investment, instead of just promoting its product on its own. To use this as an accurate comparison point, we have to assume that TOMS does have noble and undisputed intentions. Thus, we will have to omit the commentary provided by skeptics, as the legitimacy of TOMS’ charitable nature is not the subject of this blog post, and the skeptics would not find purchasing the product an act of charity. We are not analyzing the legitimacy of TOMS or other Brand Aid initiatives, which are undoubtedly controversial (Ponte), but instead, we shall analyze if TOMS is able to influence how its consumers view them. TOMS advertises itself as a charitable organization, so let us now see if its more vocal online consumers agree. On Amazon, user Jeffrey Wittig commented that he “love[s] the new shoes, and [is] happy to know that a child somewhere also got a pair,” (Amazon, TOMS Men’s Classic Canvas Slip-On). Most of the other comments fitting our criteria follow the same pattern, commending TOMS on its noble intentions. A study published in the Journal of Human Rights Practice researching TOMS’ effect found that TOMS has had much success in marketing itself in terms of philanthropy, and is widely known for it (Kingston). It is also important to note that this study argues that it has been vital for TOMS’ success that it lists its Giving Report annually. This leads me to conclude that while philanthropy has had a huge impact in promoting footwear brands, it has not had the same effect for chocolate. Thus, it is apparent that Endangered Species Chocolate and Taza are not as effective as TOMS has been in redirecting their consumers’ thoughts to their charitable intentions.
Chocolate is more than just collections of sugar and cacao; it is an investment towards future happiness. Different chocolate marketing approaches represent different ways of advertising, and thus emphasizing, happiness. Some chocolate companies promote a more individualized vision of personal sanctity, while others promote a more holistic and universal vision of harmony. It appears that this personal approach leaves a bigger impact on consumers than the charitable and altruistic one. That explains why, in Tubular Insight’s ranking of the top ten chocolate advertisement, none focus on charity or giving back of the chocolate products, but instead focus on taste, memories, and feelings of happiness (Tubular Insights). This is also made abundantly clear in pop-culture. Think of the renounced film Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. The movie depicts a chocolate utopia, benefitting the individuals lucky enough to win a Golden Ticket for themselves and a loved one, but almost no attention is given to the working conditions of the laborers, the Oompa Loompas (Burton). When their labor is mentioned, it focuses only on how they were removed from an awful country, not their current labor conditions. As the narrator in this video mentions, Willy Wonka downplays the severity of slavery. Instead, what’s much more heavily emphasized is how their chocolate will help enhance your happiness, letting you live “in a world of pure imagination” (Burton).
Chocolate has many different forms. As I sit here, writing this last paragraph, I’m currently eating 2 different types of chocolate. There is no one generic “chocolate,” nor is it as simple as a dichotomy – chocolate exists in many different shapes and tastes, and fulfill different purposes. It is no longer enough to just advertise chocolate by their tastes and textures, but now they must be marketed in the ways that they will improve your day. Different companies have different approaches, but not all approaches have equally meaningful impacts. Even when certain companies try to shift the focus onto philanthropic contributions, their chocolate is still viewed for what it is – chocolate, not acts of charity. The joy obtained from eating chocolate is a deeply personal phenomenon, and does not lend itself to holistic generosity as much as it does to immediate satisfaction and happiness. But I would be remiss if I did not add that in all the chocolate advertisements I have viewed I have never seen a fat pimply faced happy person eating a chocolate bar– but that will remain the subject of a further blog.
Allen, Lawrence L. “Chocolate fortunes: The battle for the hearts, minds, and wallets of China’s consumers.” Thunderbird International Business Review 52.1 (2010): 13-20.
Cadbury. “Home.” Franchise. N.p., n.d. Web. 1 May 2017.
D’antonio, Michael. Hershey: Milton S. Hershey’s extraordinary life of wealth, empire, and utopian dreams. Simon and Schuster, 2007.
Eagle, Bob, and Tim Ambler. “The influence of advertising on the demand for chocolate confectionery.” International Journal of Advertising 21.4 (2002): 437-454.
Endangered Species Chocolate. “Home.” Franchise. N.p., n.d. Web. 1 May 2017.
Hershey’s. “Home.” Franchise. N.p., n.d. Web. 1 May 2017.
“Interview with David.” Personal interview. 28 Apr. 2017.
“Interview with Julia.” Personal interview. 30 Apr. 2017.
Iz1233. YouTube. YouTube, 07 July 2008. Web. 2 May 2017.
Kingston, Lindsey N., and Jeanette Guellil. “TOMS and the Citizen-Consumer: Assessing the Impacts of Socially-Minded Consumption.” Journal of Human Rights Practice (2016): huw004.
Margulies, Stan. Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory. Hollywood: 1971. video.
Marshall, Carla. “Top 10 Most Shared Chocolate Ads Ever: Brands are Huge, Giant Losers.” Tubular Insights. N.p., 22 Dec. 2015. Web. 1 May 2017.
Nestle, Marion. Food politics: How the food industry influences nutrition and health. Vol. 3. Univ of California Press, 2013.
Ponte, Stefano, and Lisa Ann Richey. “Buying into development? Brand Aid forms of cause-related marketing.” Third World Quarterly 35.1 (2014): 65-87.
Satre, Lowell Joseph. Chocolate on trial: Slavery, politics, and the ethics of business. Ohio University Press, 2005.
Sylla, Ndongo. The fair trade scandal: Marketing poverty to benefit the rich. Ohio University Press, 2014.
Taza Chocolate. “Home.” Franchise. N.p., n.d. Web. 1 May 2017.