All posts by djt1993

Critique of the Chocolate Advertising Industry

Brief overview of the history of the cacao-chocolate industry.

The history of the cacao industry has been plagued by extreme exploitation since the very beginning. Ever since European colonists discovered the cacao seed, the industry has been flooded with slavery, abuse, and mistreatment. Spanish settlers were quick to implement the encomienda, a system in which the Spanish Crown declared that colonists in America had the right to demand tribute and forced labor from the indigenous inhabitants of a given area. This ultimately led to a demographic collapse and the usurpation of indigenous land in Central and South America. (Lecture 9) The global cacao industry was able to further develop on years and years of chattel slavery, in which colonists used the indigenous as “personal property.” In fact, it took the labor of about fifty-thousand enslaved Africans to produce the 20,000 tons of sugar that the English consumers demanded per year. Indeed, the growing major economies of the world relied heavily on the backs of enslaved cacao farmers, as slavery was one of the major vehicles that allowed chocolate to become as incredibly popular as it is today.

How does advertising come into play?

Although there is no legitimate or feasible means to reverse the damage of the exploitation inherent to the chocolate industry, there are some tactics that major corporations can use mitigate the residual effects of chocolate’s disturbing history. Alas, a major avenue to achieve such repair is through advertising, an industry which is currently worsening chocolate’s tainted reputation and history.

Today, the advertising industry fails to acknowledge the pressing historical and current-day issues with slavery in the cacao supply chain. Marketers believe that the sole purpose of an advertisement is to deal with the promotion and selling of chocolate by any means possible. As such, prominent chocolate companies have shown little if any effort to use ads to improve or raise awareness of the child slavery situation that currently plagues their industry. If it were somehow mandated for every chocolate company to produce ads acknowledging slavery in the cacao-chocolate industry, this unfortunate reality would be acknowledged, more heavily funded, and greatly improved.

While the average American may be unaware of such issues, or the fact that the entire industry was built on the backs of slavery and exploitation, they are certainly aware that Dove chocolate makes a suiting Valentine’s gift and that Reese’s are a hit on Halloween. This utter lack of knowledge and awareness by the general public is a major result and fault of the chocolate advertising industry at large.

It is the opinion of this particular author that advertising can be successfully used to educate the general population on the realities, or horrors, of the industry, therefore providing an opportunity for the companies with the most morally-sound supply chains (all the way from the farm to the shelves) to assert themselves to the forefront of the industry. A situation in which the morality of a company’s supply chain becomes a major advertising tool and selling point could create an arms race for the most fairly produced and high quality chocolates – in doing so, eradicating some of the economic, social, and political issues that are worsened by the exploitation of today’s cacao farmers in Africa. While the historic slavery issue may be too difficult to tackle or correct in this day and age, marketing is a powerful tool that the industry can use to spread awareness about the current slavery and exploitation issues, in a way ridding itself of the guilt of its dark history.

As such, the major goal of this essay is to assert that advertising in the cacao-chocolate industry should be used to acknowledge the history of slavery in the industry and as a tool to combat the current child slavery that exists today. The way in which chocolate advertising currently functions must change. Not only does it simply ignore the issue of slavery, it exacerbates certain stereotypes surrounding race and gender.

Stereotyping in the advertisement of chocolate.

Instead of using advertising to strategically address child slavery issues in the cacao farming industry, as suggested above, the chocolate advertising campaigns encourage preexisting societal deficiencies like racism and sexism through stereotypical depictions of these social dynamics in their ads and commercials. Subtle racial stereotypes portrayed in several chocolate advertising campaigns are spread to large volumes of people and, as such, promulgate racism in our society. To understand how subtle racism spreads via the chocolate advertising industry, one can look to the cartoon advertisement by Conguitos, a Spanish chocolate. Firstly, note that the shapes of these chocolates were made to replicate the heads of Conoglese babies, making Conguitos a company that was founded on the basis of racial stereotypes. Yet, even if you ignore this fact, the advertisement of their Conguitos characters has remained a source of painfully obvious racial stereotyping.

(Picture from lecture)

In analyzing the characterization of this cartoon, the Conguitos advertising promotes inaccurate and harmful stereotypes associated with African males.  The ridiculous emphasis of lip size and hat style is insulting and further pushes the association of these stereotypes with black males. In a society striving to eradicate racial stereotypes and promote equality across the board, this kind of advertising must be made illegal.

In addition to preventing the kind of racial stereotypes that the chocolate industry promotes through its advertisement, we as a society are obligated to eradicate the gender stereotypes that exist in chocolate advertising as well. The video below exemplifies a classic instance of gender stereotype created by the chocolate industry.

The chocolate industry has successfully created and promoted the myth that women can be seduced by a piece of candy. This is both degrading to women and detrimental to our collective societal goal of creating a society that is accepting of all genders and identities. As such, these types of advertisements are counter to the steps we are trying to take in this capacity.

In conclusion…

This essay confronts the two major issues in advertising campaigns carried out by major chocolate companies. The first issue is that the chocolate industry has not even attempted to use advertising, its most powerful tool, to combat slavery, its darkest secret. (Both historically and today.) Another pressing issue, in addition to this, is that advertising used by chocolate companies promotes racial and gender stereotypes to an incredibly large audience and broad scope. Characterizing chocolate cartoons with big lips and sideways hats, and airing commercials with women in lingerie tantalized by the mere taste of chocolate, are a few of the many examples of issues that must be addressed and drastically improved.

The one breath of hope for advertising in the chocolate industry is the enormous capacity for this particular outlet to make a legitimate change. These corporations could easily use their money, popularity, and influence to create an advertising platform that raises awareness about the child slavery epidemic in the cocoa industry. In doing so, the most fairly traded chocolate corporations could take a step ahead of the rest of the competition by promoting their product as not only the most delicious chocolate on the market, but the chocolate that provides the most hope, the one that stood up against slavery and helped to put an end to it. This the only kind of advertising that can help to fix the industry and all of the issues it creates – and is the only kind of advertising that the chocolate world desperately needs.

Combating the Fetization of Chocolate

Dove Chocolate, a product made by the Mars company, released the following commercial as part of their recent advertising campaign in the United States.

As you can see, the video very obviously sexualizes Dove chocolate, and presents it as a sort fetish for the woman in the commercial. Her flowing, silky brown nightwear, resembling a form of lingerie, helps to portray the sexiness that chocolate represents in this advertisement.

The commercial includes multiple shots of a woman closing her eyes and smiling as she consumes delicious-looking Dove chocolate. Close ups of her lips, mouth, the soft skin on her shoulders, and specifically the visual of the chocolate slowly being put into her mouth, all aim to further sexualize the woman and the chocolate in the commercial. When she consumes the chocolate she looks incredibly happy, although a more accurate or appropriate way to describe her expression would be: pleased.

Throughout the commercial, sensual music plays in the background and a provocative female whisper describes how the chocolate makes women “savor,” “sigh,” and “melt” – all things that can very obviously used to describe sexual pleasure. The commercial ends with a silky blanket uncovering the chocolate, much like someone would uncover his or herself in bed.

Ultimately, the commercial’s message is that chocolate for this woman is the same thing that silky lingerie is for men – a tantalizing fetish. Incredibly, the Mars company is so convinced that women feel this way about chocolate that they explicitly conveyed this message as a way to attract women to their product.

This commercial comes into production after a longstanding history of women being targeted by chocolate companies in an effort to sell their product. Chocolate companies have long umbrellaed females into a group that perceives chocolate as a fetish or guilty pleasure. By making a commercial like this, they only perpetuate such inaccurate stereotypes.

To combat the stereotypical portrayal of women being enthralled or seduced by chocolate, I created the following ad:

Bathroom 2.jpg

The advertisement is simply three bathrooms, one male, one female, and one multi-gender. The slogan reads:

“Just like everyone poops, everyone loves chocolate. Be more like these bathrooms and just include everyone.”

The first line of the slogan “Just like everyone poops…” pays homage to a popular children’s book entitled “Everyone Poops.” It is primarily incorporated in the ad to catch the viewers attention and provide a sense of humor, as memorable one liners and humor are both psychologically proven to resonate more with the human brain. This line also does a very good job of making the ad incredibly un-sexy, which is perfect in light of the Dove commercial it was created to contrast.

The main message of the ad is very clearly to acknowledge that chocolate companies need to stop targeting specific groups with advertisements that promulgate negative stereotypes, and to include every group in their advertisement campaigns, and to do it fairly.

Popularization of Chocolate through Slavery and Mechanization

Chocolate has had fascinating history ever since Ferdinand Columbus unknowingly referred to cacao beans as “almonds which, in New Spain [Mexico], are used for money.” On one of the many voyages he took in the name of Spanish conquest, he noticed that the indigenous people “seemed to hold these almonds at a great price…” and that “when any of these almonds fell, they all stooped to pick it up, as if an eye had fallen.” (Coe & Coe, 109)

(The painting above depicts Europeans interacting with indigenous people about chocolate.)

 As it turns out, these “almonds” soon made their way to Europe, marking the birth of one the largest and controversial food industries in world history. Historians have taken several different stances in telling the story of how the cacao bean evolved all the way from Ferdinand Columbus’ mysterious “almond,” to the chocolate being mass-produced today. The evolution of chocolate has proved to be as profitable as it is controversial. The following essay asserts that the popularization and subsequent mass production of chocolate was a product of: a.) slave labor and b.) the mechanization of chocolate.

As late as the 1900s, long after slavery had been abolished in the U.S. and other developed nations, Joseph Burtt wrote a report alluding to inhumane working conditions faced by the Portuguese laborers in Angola. In the description of his journey to Angola, he writes, “it was not long before we found evidence of the disregard of humanity and freedom, as in a few hours we saw skeletons and shackles.” (Chocolate Islands, p. 136) Throughout their existence, large companies like Cadbury made a considerable effort to hide the fact that slavery was an essential part of the cultivation process that produced their cacao beans. Eventually, though, reports like this added to a growing body of irrefutable evidence that proved slave labor in the cacao industry existed far longer than most people thought possible.

Undoubtedly, cultivating cacao was and still is a very delicate and therefore expensive process. Back when chocolate was first introduced to Europe, it was also extremely costly at the time for the beans to be shipped from there from the Americas. As a result, chocolate prices remained relatively high long after cacao was introduced to Europe, and was really only popular among the European elite. However, high potential profit margins achieved through enslaving Africans and indigenous Americans incentivized rich Europeans to enter the industry and the overall supply of cacao increased. Inexpensive slave labor eventually allowed the members of the growing chocolate industry to cut down prices, increasing demand from the middle and lower class, and promoting the mass production of chocolate

(Cacao seeds)

So, although slave labor was incredibly important to the chocolate-manufacturing process, the mass-popularization of chocolate still may not have been possible without the industrialization of the chocolate-manufacturing process, a phenomenon that greatly enhanced the product’s appeal to the masses and changed chocolate forever. One of the early and most important industrial advancements involved in the production of chocolate was the hydraulic press invented by a Dutch chocolate maker named Coenraad van Houten in 1828. This machine allowed for cacao nibs to be turned into cocoa powder, a material that serves as the base for most chocolate products to this day. This powder made it far easier to make chocolate drinks and to add sugar to the product, a transformative step in the evolution of chocolate. Later on, thanks to the discovery of a process called tempering, which allowed chocolate to be stored at room temperature, Joseph Fry manufactured the first chocolate bars for eating in 1847, inciting arguably the most revolutionary change in the way that people consumed and perceived chocolate. (Lecture 5) Turning to bar-form made chocolate much easier to consume and greatly encouraged the popularization of the product.

Rudolph Lindt’s invention of the conche further improved and changed chocolate production, as conching changed the texture and flavor of chocolate, providing a smooth texture and taste that was far more appealing to the masses than its chalky predecessor. Another essential enhancement to the chocolate-manufacturing process was the creation of powdered milk by Henri Nestle in 1867, which ultimately led to the advent of the first milk chocolate bar being produced in 1879 by Daniel Peter. Milk chocolate was immediately popular and remains so today, as it is the most commonly consumed type of chocolate in places like Europe and America.

(This is a picture of what Lindt’s conching machine looked like.)

In summary, the mechanization of chocolate manufacturing process made the product more efficient to make, more appealing, or more easily consumed. It also largely increased the supply of chocolate and offered a way for it to reach populations of every socioeconomic background. Sadly, though, the chocolate industry that improved so greatly with this industrialization period is also largely to blame for the long-term exploitation of slaves, and chocolate moguls will always have to push on knowing that their entire industry, its popularization and mass-production, as well as the empires it created, were partially built on the backs of slaves.


Works Cited:

Higgs, Catherine. Chocolate Islands: Cocoa, Slavery, and Colonial Africa. Ohio University Press, 2012.

Satre, Lowell Joseph. Chocolate on trial: Slavery, politics, and the ethics of business. Ohio University Press, 2005.



Proving Early Consumption of Cacao

In a book titled The True History of Chocolate, authors Sophie Coe and Michael Coe used linguistic history to make the argument that the Olmec were the first people to consume cacao. Recently studies have been performed in an effort to confirm this argument using physical evidence.


As such, an analysis of 156 pottery sherds and vessels was completed in conjunction with the San Lorenzo Tenochtitlan Archaeological Project. The reason such vessels were tested was because cacao was said to have been consumed by the Olmec in liquid form, and would have the best chance of offering evidence of cacao residue, as they were served in such apparatuses (depicted below).


Cacao is composed of more than 500 different chemical compounds, archaeologists have identified theobromine as the substance to look for that indicates the presence of cacao. Thus, the study consisted of testing these Mesoamerican artifacts to see if there theobromine residue is present.


The results of the study proved to be fascinating, as theobromine was identified in several of the vessels tested in the analysis. This therefore supports the argument that Sophie and Michael Coe put forth in their book – meaning that the Olmec were consuming cacao starting around sometime between 1800 to 1000 BCE.



Powis, Terry G., et al. “Cacao use and the San Lorenzo Olmec.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 108.21 (2011): 8595-8600.