“Chocolate is universal. Everyone loves chocolate.” According to my chocolate loving sister, who is in her mid 20s, it is unfathomable to think that someone could ever hate chocolate. Since her first taste of chocolate as a child to even now as an adult, her love for the sweetness of chocolate hasn’t changed. However, the importance of chocolate and the role that chocolate plays in her life are now very different. After an interview with my sister Cathy, I learned about her evolving relationship with chocolate and wanted to understand why the significance of chocolate in her life has changed. As a child, chocolate was simply a food item to satisfy her craving for something sweet. As an adult, she now consumes chocolate to indulge, to share with others, to relieve stress, to gain quick energy and so much more. I believe that the increased complexity of chocolate in our lives has been influenced by established customs and social norms shaped by the history of chocolate advertising. Advertisements are successful in changing the role of chocolate in our lives because they manipulate our desire to be liked in society, which is driven by our fear of being an outsider by going against a culturally accepted belief that everyone loves chocolate.
Cathy’s motivation to eat chocolate as a child was influenced by her innate preference for sugar and recalls that she did not differentiate brands of chocolate based on quality. “When I was younger, I didn’t care what kind of chocolate I was eating. I just ate it because it tasted good” says Cathy. Cathy and other children might have similar attitudes towards chocolate at this young age because they are still growing and developing their own judgements about what is acceptable in society. However, chocolate advertisements have engrained in children at a young age that it is culturally acceptable to love chocolate. Especially when children are very young and have not developed reading skills, advertisements targeted at children focus on the theme of chocolate “tasting good.” In addition, chocolate advertisers rely on visually stimulating advertising devoid of dialogue or a lot of words for this young audience. As we can see in this commercial for Hershey’s kisses,
Hershey wants to convey a sense of fantasy surrounding the chocolate making process by having Hershey’s kisses come to life. From the beginning, we see a machine that essentially breathes life into a chocolate kiss as it now begins to take us on a journey. By watching this, children are placed in the perspective of a Hershey’s kiss. During the span of 30 seconds, they are flung across the room and go on an exciting rollercoaster ride, to land on a red carpet where hundreds of other Hershey kisses are cheering. The music theme of the commercial is also “Off to work we go” which is the tune of a children’s fantasy tale, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. A majority of children growing up in America grew up reading and watching the Disney movie about this tale. When they hear this tune, they can recognize this familiar song as one of their favorites, and connect the joy of eating chocolate to one of their favorite Disney movies. The end of the commercial focuses on a young boy giving a Hershey’s kiss to his mom and the mom lovingly looking back at the boy for the gift. As a young child, receiving love from one’s parent is a desire that children experience. Even at a young age, children can internalize this commercial by connecting chocolate with love. This Hershey’s kiss advertisement is one of the few examples of how advertising from a young age reinforces a universal belief that everyone should love chocolate. For children, this universal belief can stem from the desire of a child to be loved by their parents. Advertisers can thus capitalize on this fear in children by suggesting that not having the experience of sharing chocolate with their parents could make them less loved in society.
Furthermore, advertisements teach children that chocolate can be used as a social activity with friends and family because of the perceived notion that everyone loves chocolate. Through my interview with Cathy, she recalls that one of the advertisements that really caught her attention at a young age was this commercial of Hershey’s Chocolate Syrup.
Here we hear the catchy tune of “Stir it up” and the laughs of children drinking this chocolate milk made with chocolate syrup. By showing us the different environments in which to drink this chocolate milk, whether it be with friends, outside on a picnic, or with your mom in the kitchen, children can make the connection at a young age that drinking or eating chocolate is an acceptable social activity. It leaves this message that if all of these kids are enjoying the fun of drinking chocolate milk, then you should too! When talking with Cathy, she recalls that this advertisement made her feel that she was missing out. After watching the commercial, she remembers immediately asking her mom to go to the grocery store to buy Hershey’s chocolate syrup so she can join the fun of making milk chocolate. Even at a young age, advertising has influenced children to establish cultural norms that eating chocolate is acceptable and that one would be missing out if one didn’t accept this belief.
Once this fundamental belief is established as a child that chocolate is universally accepted by everyone, advertisements can create more reasons for consuming chocolate by taking advantage of this inherent desire in adults to be accepted for liking chocolate. Reasons for consuming chocolate have in fact drastically changed in Cathy’s life. “When I was little, I liked eating chocolate because it tasted good. Now I only eat chocolate for special occasions. Sometimes I eat chocolate as a dessert to enjoy, for an afternoon snack, or when I need energy or a pick me up. I sometimes use chocolate as a stress reliever, but I try to eat a little bit at a time because I know I shouldn’t indulge in chocolate too much.” All of these reasons for eating chocolate that Cathy listed can be traced to the history in which chocolate was advertised to an adult. In the late 1800s to the 1900s, the Industrial Revolution brought about new innovations that led to the development of a mechanized process of manufacturing large amounts of chocolate. Thus, new corporations such as Hershey and Mars Company made chocolate affordable and accessible to all classes but still had a huge responsibility to educate consumers on why they need chocolate (Coe & Coe 234). Early advertisements actually focused on using chocolate as a means for nutritional energy.
This ad that circulated around 1910 to 1920 has the title, “Hershey’s Milk Chocolate” with the caption at the bottom, “A meal in itself”. In the early 20th century, nutritionists recommended chocolate and cocoa as part of a balanced nutritional diet because historically chocolate had been praised as a wonder food after the conquest of the Aztecs by the Spanish Conquistadors in the early 1500s (Coe & Coe 136). In the center is an upper class woman buying chocolate in the store with children around her all smiling. During this time period, women are perceived in society as caretakers of children in society, with the pressures to have social class. This ad elevates the status of this woman for buying chocolate as a meal for her children and herself by promoting the belief that chocolate was nutritious for the family.
While that ad introduces the acceptability for women to eat chocolate as a meal, this Cadbury ad promotes chocolate as a source of energy and manliness. Here we see a firefighter from the early 20th century who is taking his time to drink hot chocolate amidst his busy workday to extinguish fires. The ad is titled, “Cadbury’s cocoa – Makes strong men stronger”. The subtitle writes, “The most refreshing, nutritious, and sustaining of all cocoas.”
This ad exemplifies an ideal man, who is busy at work and conveys a sense of power because of his legitimate uniform. By educating consumers that this is “nutritious” and that it “makes strong men stronger,” these messages confirm the hypothesis that ad have historically created the social norm that chocolate should be eaten as food. When Hershey’s was first introduced in the United States, many people did not like the taste. However, the advertising messages such as these two above changed consumers’ preferences for this taste because big companies wanted to change the social perception of chocolate as food.
Ironically, only a small percent of cocoa beans are actually in these chocolate bars advertised by Hershey’s or Cadbury and these small amounts cannot provide significant health benefits. However, the power of advertising over the past decade is described in detail in Samira Kawash’s book, “Candy: A Century of Panic and Pleasure”. The author describes the social changes that have allowed America to become such a candy eating nation. For example, athletes would swear on the performance boosting powers of candy and scientists insisted that even chocolate has health benefits. We can see how the influence of these early advertisements established these social norms that candy or chocolate is food. “The story of candy in America is a story of how the processed, the artificial, and the fake came to be embraced as real food. And it’s also the story of how it happened that so much of what we call real food today is really candy” (Kawash 26). In fact, the most popular chocolate products on the market are able to mass produce so effectively across the world because these manufacturers try to minimize the most expensive content of the raw material of chocolate in order to gain massive profits (Cidell 2006).
Cathy similar to most women in her mid 20s also use chocolate as a luxury to indulge. During our interview, she repeatedly mentioned this idea that she needs to control the amount of chocolate she eats. “When I was younger, I didn’t have the choice to buy chocolate because my parents would never buy it for us. But now as I am older, I see chocolate more as a luxury. Even if it’s accessible at the drug store, I see it as an indulgence and want to save it for a special occasion or when I really need it.” Cathy seems to hold onto this view that even as an independent adult who has the financial means to buy chocolate, she feels the need to control her desire to give into her indulgence. She is not the only one who has these thoughts because advertisers have created a pervasive culture that chocolate is an indulgence, and thus wanting us to crave it more. Here is an example of a modern advertisement that highlights this message.
This company is encouraging a message to consumers to finally give into their obsession for chocolate and to indulge themselves. This advertisement takes advantage of this idea that chocolate is bad but encouraging consumers to be proud of giving into the sin of chocolate. According to an article written about the changing roles of chocolate, the author Robertson writes how chocolate is marketed to adult woman by associating chocolate with this ideal of beauty as seen in this slender women being wrapped by a chocolate dress. “The chocolates thus gain in value through association both with a dynamic adventure/romance narrative and with an imagined ideal of feminine beauty” (Robertson Ch.2). This advertisement is an example highlighting the pervasive culture that everyone is obsessed with chocolate. Even though children were obsessed with chocolate for its sweet taste, a new culture exists for adults that are obsessed with chocolate for its perception of luxury and feminine beauty.
By comparing the advertisements that target children versus adults, we see the influence of the media that shape the role of chocolate in our lives. Advertisements teach children at an early age that eating chocolate is socially acceptable. We unconsciously believe that if we don’t experience the joy of chocolate, we will be missing out on love and life. As we get older, the media capitalizes on this fear by introducing other roles of chocolate in our lives. For example, the fear of not being manly, or feminine, or experiencing a luxury, are insecure thoughts that advertisers capitalize on by introducing the role of chocolate as a way to combat those fears. At the end of the interview, I asked Cathy why she liked dark chocolate now. She replied that she got used to the taste. But I concluded the interview with a thought question, “Do you like dark chocolate for fear of missing out on a universally accepted trend?”
Cidell, Julie L., and Heike C. Alberts. “Constructing quality: the multinational histories of chocolate.” Geoforum 37.6 (2006): 999-1007.
Coe, Sophie D., Michael D. Coe, and Ryan J. Huxtable. The true history of chocolate. London: Thames and Hudson, 1996.
Kawash, Samira. Candy: A Century of Panic and Pleasure. Macmillan, 2013.
Robertson, Emma. Chocolate, Women and Empire: A Social and Cultural Histo ry. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2009.