All posts by DumbledoreLovesChocolate

Seductive Chocolate: A Comprehensive Look Into the Chocolate Industry’s Obsession with Sex

The industry surrounding the chocolate biz has a long tradition of designing appetizing advertisements for the masses with the sole intention to grab the viewers mind and transport them to a place that’s filled with chocolate fantasies. Often times, these advertisements, notably television commercials, advertently display sexualized portrayals of women having an intimate moment alone with a piece of chocolate; giving potential buyers mixed messages as to whether or not they’re in the market for a chocolate bar or a sensual adventure. Through these portrayals, the chocolate industry has successfully sold consumers an idealized illusion surrounding women and chocolate, singlehandedly shaping the way in which females are viewed and categorized within these advertisements. These long-standing dreamy commercials have dominated shoppers since the birth of chocolate ads, and thanks to daring companies looking to push the envelope, the ways in which females are portrayed in chocolate commercials have easily become some of the most erotic ads on television, coupling the idea of chocolate and sex into the minds of patrons amid every commercial break. By analyzing these televised commercials and taking an in-depth look at the industry’s sensual selling approach, we can begin to interpret these gendered stereotypes that command the chocolate business in more ways than simply peddling chocolate. 

In 1991, Cadbury chocolate initiated a bold, new advertisement for their best-selling Cadbury Flake chocolate bar, a candy bar that consists of crumbly milk chocolate layers (see fig. 1). 


Screen Shot 2018-05-09 at 12.19.23 PM.pngFigure 1. “Cadbury Flake.” Cadbury, https://www.cadbury.co.uk/products/cadbury-flake-11309.


The process for creating these bars is said to be “a closely guarded secret” within the Cadbury company, and the television advertisement that followed definitely proved how secretive this bar can be (Cadbury, “Cadbury Flake”).  The ad scored film director Nick Lewin, alongside the popular British production company, Lewin & Watson; together they hired model Rachel Brown to be their official “Flake Girl” in the commercial entitled Bath (The Hall of Advertising, “Cadbury’s Flake – Bath, 1992, UK). The cinematic-style commercial (00:54 seconds long) is set in a large bathroom, with a bathtub in the middle of the room, adoring Rachel Brown, by herself, in the sudsy water (see fig. 2).


Figure 2. Cadbury’s Flake – Bath (1992, UK). Uploaded by The Hall of Advertising. Published on March 17, 2015. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mEZ2ax2-O2A.


Close-up shots of her face, along with the bathtub handles (dripping in water) are used at the beginning of the ad, giving viewers a small taste of what is yet to come. About halfway through the commercial, viewers begin to see Rachel Brown whip out a Cadbury Flake bar and open it up, as she takes a delicate bite and sinks back into the water, as the tub begins to overflow and spill onto the bathroom floor. After a few dramatic splashing shots, the camera pans to a wide-shot of Rachel Brown in the overflowing bathtub (with an aesthetically beautiful painting of gods and angels behind her) as the camera slowly backs away toward the bathroom door, which eventually shuts on the intimate moment the Flake Girl is having with her chocolate bar. The commercial ends with the doors closed, but water continues to flush from the bathroom and out into the hallway, as viewers are left assuming she is still having a euphoric moment with her chocolate bar and has yet to know she has flooded her bathroom. A dozen dead roses lie outside the door, as the narrator, in hushed, secretive tones, says, “Cadbury’s Flake, the crumbliest, flakiest, milk-chocolate in the world,” (The Hall of Advertising, “Cadbury’s Flake – Bath, 1992, UK).

This commercial was downright daring for the early 1990s, but it wasn’t unheard of, as the chocolate industry has always relied on selling chocolate and sex together. The marketing trick behind ads like Cadbury’s Bath is the notion that women crave their alone time, and with that silence comes the need for a tantalizing and mysterious experience. Jamal Fahim, author of the article, Beyond Cravings: Gender and Class Desires in Chocolate Marketing, describes the motivation behind the booming sexual chocolate duo, and goes on to say, “Chocolate advertisements encourage women to take a break from their normal routine and seek pleasure in a chocolate fantasy, thus promoting a “mentalistic hedonism” within consumers,” (19). Cadbury’s Bath commercial displays such a scene that the woman depicted on-screen is so enveloped within her “mentalistic hedonism,” that she completely foregoes the dramatic flooding scene happing all around her, giving this fantastical moment the upper-hand over reality. Fahim also argues, what he calls, the “taboo aspect of desires” within chocolate advertisements and the fantasies they portray, and continues to say, “Chocolate commercials require the sexual taboo because it enables women to transfer their wants and desires into a chocolate sexual fantasy,” (19).

While watching Cadbury’s Bath commercial, viewers can’t help but feel as though they’re peeping into a woman’s bathroom while she’s naked in the comfort of her own tub, which begs the question: what does this private moment have to do with a bar of chocolate? Many sexualized chocolate commercials spark this inquiry if one sits down and truly considers what’s being played on their television screen, but the question is rarely answered, as marketers assume one would rather buy their chocolate bar and feel the sensation similar to the one depicted on their television screen, versus question why this dualism between sex and chocolate is being shown to the masses. Lorna Stevens and Jacob Ostberg discuss Cadbury’s Bath commercial in their article entitled, Gendered Bodies: Representations of femininity and masculinity in advertising practices, and go on to exclaim, “Such ads [Cadbury’s Bath] draw clear parallels between food consumption and sexual surrender. This ad is still considered to be one of the all-time most sexy ads, according to a poll conducted in 2008,” (398). Almost ten years after Cadbury’s Bath debut, viewers still remember the erotic nature this ad displayed, showing the long-lasting effects these advertisements have on the people they’re marketing to. Nonetheless, passionate chocolate commercials have been around for ages, and in our modern-day society, many chocolate companies have upped the ante when it comes to displaying women and chocolate. 

The Chocolat Poulain chocolate company has been in business since the nineteenth-century, priding itself on being France’s “jewel” chocolatier, as their website claims they, “offer a range of chocolates to accompany you in your gourmet moments,” (Chocolat Poulain, Homepage). In 2009, the veteran company debuted a television commercial (00:48 seconds long) selling their 1848 chocolate bar, a piece that commemorates the founding year of the company. However, viewers probably didn’t grasp the tribute to their legendary past, as the commercial itself displayed a woman having an orgasmic moment with her 1848 chocolate bar (see fig. 3).


Figure 3. SEXY CHOCOLATE commercial. Uploaded by Modelstvcm3. Published on April 28, 2009. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yzOchsY4RhQ.


Interestingly, the commercial opens with images of cacao beans and cocoa powder, as close-up camera shots of a woman are shown, grasping tightly onto the beans and she seductively touches the cocoa powder in a moment of ecstasy, all while low-toned sexual sighs are heard in the background (Modelstvcm3, “SEXY CHOCOLATE commercial”). At one point, the cocoa powder sifts over her face as the woman breathes in loud and heavy with her eyes closed. The next sequence shows chocolate liquid dripping over her face, as if the scene was hot enough to melt the cocoa powder from the previous camera angle. The woman continues to thrust her head back with her eyes still closed as the camera follows the dripping of the chocolate over her lips. The commercial ends soon after with the woman (presumably naked due to the medium side-shot of her topless) eating a piece of candy while a large booming sound comes through the speakers as if the erotic moment leading up to this chocolate ingestion has abruptly ended, as the screen fades to an image of the chocolate bar itself and then fades to black. What’s striking about this commercial, in comparison to Cadbury’s Bath advertisement, is the use of sound throughout the ad. While one still feels as though they’re watching an intimate moment of a woman, alone, enjoying herself with a piece of chocolate, the tone throughout the commercial is extremely carnal due to the heavy breathing and sexualized moans, all of which point to the obvious: the woman was experiencing an orgasmic moment with her 1848 Chocolat Poulain chocolate bar (see fig. 4). 


Screen Shot 2018-05-09 at 12.46.55 PMFigure 4. “Chocolat Poulain.” Chocolat Poulain, https://www.chocolatpoulain.fr.


Fahim argues chocolate marketers have, “Turned chocolate into a sexual, self-indulgent, private experience that invokes a taboo similar to that of masturbation,” a spectacle we can clearly see proceeding in commercials similar to the 1848 Chocolat Poulain advertisement (21). It’s been assumed by people for quite some time that chocolate acts as an aphrodisiac, and in recent times, scientists have studied the properties of chocolate to see if these presumptions ring true. According to an article in the New York Times, entitled, The Claim: Chocolate Is an Aphrodisiac, author Anahad O’Connor describes the two chemicals in chocolate scientists have studied, tryptophan (a brain chemical involved in sexual arousal) and phenylethylamine (a stimulant that releases into the brain when people fall in love), both substances thought to evoke sexual arousal in the individual consuming the chocolate. However, the article goes on to say, “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,” (O’Connor 1). Although chocolate advertisements continually link the sexual suspicion between personal arousal and chocolate, the effects are most likely intellectually linked in a person’s mind due to the erotic nature of these ads, versus a physical stimulant effect a chocolate bar is giving off. In spite of this, the chocolate industry, alongside their clever marketing schemes, want to sell their consumers on more than just a chocolate bar; they want to sell an experience solely linked to their chocolate, one that evokes more than just a flurry in one’s taste buds. 

Be that as it may, chocolate marketers are obsessed with selling women chocolate and will go to extreme lengths to sell their brand and the experience it exudes to the female population. Carla D. Martin, a lecturer at Harvard University, explains the role women play in the chocolate industry and goes on to say, “Women are the world’s largest consumers of chocolate. They’re not eating the most chocolate, men are eating just as much chocolate, but women are buying the most chocolate, except in that one week leading up to Valentine’s Day where men go out and buy the most chocolate.” With that said, it’s no wonder why the chocolate industry heavily targets women and their desire for chocolate, especially if they are the number one consumer of chocolate worldwide.

However, a line is crossed when chocolate companies prefer to sell to women based on the numbers, versus selling a tantalizing experience for women to enjoy all across the globe. These gendered stereotypes within the chocolate biz are crucial to consider when marketers discuss their latest advertisements, but unfortunately, sex must sell because we continue to see new and improved versions of these highly sexualized commercials. To be fair, the chocolate industry isn’t the only group that singles out women in a sensual manner and men also bear the brunt of highly sexualized advertisements when it comes to materials they’re more likely to buy (e.g., deodorant). Still, the marketing-sphere has planted their feet on the idea that chocolate and sex should be coupled together for a lifetime, and the only way we’re going to see a change in these stereotypes is if women collectively come together and use their voice against such advertising and blatantly sexualized portrayals, coupled with the chocolate industry truly listening to these pleas and changing their stance for good. Only then will we see a direct change in the ways in which the chocolate industry illustrates women in these ads; a change which is much needed in our modern-world toward the accurate representation of women across the globe. 


Works Cited

“Cadbury Flake.” Cadbury, Accessed on 4 May 2018. https://www.cadbury.co.uk/products/cadbury-flake-11309.

Cadbury’s Flake – Bath (1992, UK). Uploaded by The Hall of Advertising. Published on March 17, 2015. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mEZ2ax2-O2A.

Fahim, Jamal, “Beyond Cravings: Gender and Class Desires in Chocolate Marketing” (2010). Sociology Student Scholarship.

“La Marque.” Chocolat Poulain, Accessed on 4 May 2018. https://www.chocolatpoulain.fr.

Martin, Carla D. “Race, ethnicity, gender, and class in chocolate.” Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food, 28 March 2018, Harvard University, Cambridge Massachusetts, MA. Lecture.

Ostberg, Jacob, and Stevens, Lorna. “Gendered Bodies: Representations of femininity and masculinity in advertising practices.” Marketing Management: A Cultural Perspective. 2012, Chapter 24.

SEXY CHOCOLATE commercial. Uploaded by Modelstvcm3. Published on April 28, 2009. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yzOchsY4RhQ. 

The Claim: Chocolate Is an Aphrodisiac.” The New York Times, 18, July 2006, https://www.nytimes.com/2006/07/18/health/18real.html. 

Let Us Raise a Vessel to Cacao… Mayan Style!

Do you remember the last time you had a cup of hot chocolate? Was it served in a mug, topped with whipped cream? Or maybe you sipped it from a to-go cup from your favorite drive-thru restaurant. Most of the time we don’t fuss with what we’re drinking our hot chocolate from because we’re too busy enjoying the aroma and experience this time honored beverage provides us. Yet, ancient cultures, alike the Mayans, respected their cacao drinking methods and admired the cup they drank from just as much as they prized the drink itself. In many cases, cacao wouldn’t have been drunk if it wasn’t out of an artistically treasured and symbolized vessel… a far cry from how we view and present our version of hot chocolate today. Nevertheless, this customary beverage and the material in which it was once presented in was systematically ritualized throughout the ancient Classic Maya culture, proving a frothy cup of cacao was more than just something to cheers with.

The Classic Maya period (250 A.D. to 900 A.D.) was considered to be the most influential and profound stage of the ancient Mayan civilization. Fabulous accomplishments, such as towering pyramids and vast palaces throughout the Yucatan Peninsula, beautifully decorated ceramics, and a distinguishable writing system flourished during this time. This was also a time when the Maya elite prospered, and their admiration for the finer things in life influenced their daily lives and dietary intake, ritualizing items such as cacao and the vessels they were ingested from. David Stuart, an archaeologist and epigrapher who specializes in Mesoamerican cultures, describes in a chapter within the book, Chocolate in Mesoamerica, the ways in which the Maya civilization upheld the role of cacao within their society. Stuart suggests, “The importance of cacao in Classic Maya society was not widely appreciated until the decipherment of glyphic texts on ceramics in the 1980s, when it became clear that seemingly countless ceramic vessels were inscribed with a dedicatory formula identifying them as drinking vessels for chocolate” (Stuart 184).

Around the same time those descriptive discoveries were uncovered, much excitement arose when two vessels were found in Guatemala containing chemical remains of cacao (Theobromine), a study that was performed by W. Jeffery Hurst, a chemist at the Hershey Foods Technical Center (Carla D. Martin, Mesoamerica and the “food of the gods,” January 31, 2018). By identifying the Maya word and glyph for cacao (ka-ka-wa), including the remains of Theobromine, archaeologists soon realized the extensive amount of Maya vessels which were artistically depicted with the kakaw glyph, symbolizing the importance of cacao within their culture, alongside the vessels in which they were consumed from (Stuart 184). In most early cases, a vessel that depicted the kakaw glyph was considered to be apart of a Maya elites collection, illustrating the consumption of cacao was reserved for those of importance within the community.

The Kakaw Glyph
Figure 1. The kakaw glyph (ka-ka-wa) in the Dresden Codex. a. The individual syllables of ka-ka-wa. b. The representation of the God of Death holding an offering of a bowl of cacao. Drawings by Carlos Villacorta from the Dresden Codex (1976).

Maricel E. Presilla, a cultural historian, chef, and author of the book, The New Taste of Chocolate: A Cultural and Natural History of Cacao with Recipes, reviews the ways in which the kakaw glyph was depicted on Maya pots and drinking vessels, and goes on to say, “Dozens of Classic Maya pots and jars, included along with other furnishings in burial chambers, depict chocolate as a crucial, central element of opulent feasts” (Presilla 12). Archaeologists have also come to believe that the vessel in which the cacao drink was drunk from had different levels of significance and cultural value, through the means of the artwork depicted on the cup and the individuals utilizing this piece of material culture (Presilla 12). Realizations as such have contributed to many other professionals from a plethora of academic fields, such as anthropologists and art curators, into the mix, creating a vast amount of research conducted around this specific topic. Dr. Dorie Reents-Budet, an Art Curator at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, Massachusetts, describes the functionality of these impressive vessels in a chapter within the book, Chocolate in Mesoamerica, and considers these vessels, “Function as containers for edibles and also as portable props whose myths-political imagery lent power and prestige to their owners and the event during which they were used” (Reents-Budet 210).

As a result, these elaborate cacao drinking vessels served up a frothy-drink of dualism between the vessel itself and the individual enjoying this influential beverage. Illustrations of exclusive banquets held by the Maya elite were plentiful, and according to Reents-Budet, these elite banquets which included fantastic kakaw serving vessels, “Transcended their primary function as food service wares and were transformed into indispensable status markers and essential gifts; that is, they became social currency” (Reents-Budet 213). The aftereffect of these frequent banquets lead to those creative kakaw drinking vessels to be perceived as social currency and a higher status, and soon after, production of cacao drinking vessels by “highly trained artisans and renewed painters” (Reents-Budet 214) was off and running.

A Late Classic Maya Vase
Figure 2. A Late Classic Maya period polychrome vase for serving chocolate beverages and giving as gifts during elite feasts. Collections of the New Orleans Museum of Art. Photograph copyright Justin Kerr (K2800).

As a result of this newfound kakaw drinking vessel popularity, the Maya civilization never looked back, and the ideals around this foamy, ritualized beverage flourished for the rest of their reign. Through mysterious circumstances, the decline of the Maya culture happened sometime between the late eighth and ninth century, creating a sense of wonder around this distinguished ancient civilization. While we may never know what truly happened to the Mayans and their artistic culture, the remnants of their treasured vessels and love for cacao has overcome their deterioration, and continues to thrive in our modern day society through academic means and pure curiosity for what was once a fascinating and complex society.

Depiction of a Cacao Beverage Being Frothed
Figure 3. Classic Maya period depicting the aerating of a kakaw beverage by pouring the liquid from one jar to another placed on the floor. Collections from the Princeton Art Museum (acc. no. 75-17, the Hans and Dorthy Widenmann Foundation). Photograph copyright Justin Kerr (K511).

References Cited:

Martin, Carla D. Mesoamerica and the “food gods.” Harvard University, Jan. 2018, https://docs.google.com/presentation/d/1XF-lM9Z9iks0cVhUFRJ1QWBokKTRrdvZISwAJVSe_Ag/edit#slide=id.gef490479d_2_18

Presilla, Maricel E. The New Taste of Chocolate: A Cultural and Natural History of Cacao with Recipes. Ten Speed Press, 2009.

Reents-Budet, Dorie. “The Social Context of Kakaw Drinking among the Ancient Maya.” Chocolate in Mesoamerica, edited by Cameron L. McNeil, University Press of Florida, 2009, pp. 202-223.

Stuart, David. “The Language of Chocolate References to Cacao on Classic Maya Drinking Vessels.” Chocolate in Mesoamerica, edited by Cameron L. McNeil, University Press of Florida, 2009, pp. 184-201.

Dumbledore Loves Chocolate
Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. Dir. Chris Columbus. Warner Bros., 2001. DVD.