Tag Archives: ads

Chocolate Gold

Advertising in the chocolate industry is laden with sexist, ageist, racist, and classist imagery and slogans. I’d venture to say that the majority of chocolate advertisements tell me that chocolate is a seductive and decadent treat that makes me lose myself and is to be consumed in an overtly sexual way. Ferrero, which is one of the world’s Big Five chocolate companies (Allen), has long conveyed to consumers through advertising that its chocolate is a regal treat, that enjoying their product allows you bask in the spoils of the rich for a low entry price. Ferrero’s marketing tactic blatantly employs classism in order to maintain their position in the Big Five, capitalizing on chocolate’s actual chronicle of greed, colonialism, and slavery—and, yet, we buy it.

In 2011, Ferrero unleashed their “Golden Christmas” campaign. This campaign basically added images of Christmas trees and holiday lights to their usual setting of a swanky Ambassadors’ reception complete with tuxedos, butlers, and pretty ladies opening their mouths wide for a tasty “European specialty,” all under the guise of sharing in something wonderful. Let’s take a moment to appreciate this advertisement:

A sleek sedan drives through iron gates as opera music plays. (Prepare to be whisked away to a mansion you’ll never live in!) The vehicle that presumably most people can’t afford passes several rows of carefully sculpted landscaping adorned with white Christmas lights on a lawn that most people will never personally enjoy. The driver is a man in a tuxedo and the passenger and narrator is a thin woman dressed in a gown. They pull up to an outdoor party where others are dressed similarly. Amidst the fine guests, we receive a peek at a Christmas tree. (Just a peek—because, remember, our focus is the chocolate, not the holiday intended to celebrate love and the birth of the Christian God’s son.) As the camera pans the setting, a servant descends a flight of steps lined with a red carpet. He is holding a silver platter with neatly stacked Ferrero Rocher chocolates, enclosed in their trademark gold-colored wrappers. Before the woman places a chocolate in her mouth, she closes her eyes and says, “Mmmmm.” She becomes so lost in this delectable nugget that a male narrator has to jump in. He lets us in on the secret: that chocolate is “premium,” in fact, it is actually “the finest chocolate” and “the most sophisticated of the confections arts.”

Have you been carried off to a party where you wear your finest threads, roll up in your waxed whip, and are served by a guy in white gloves while a suave Ambassador winks at you? Does the cooing of a pretty lady turn you on? Are you a woman yearning to identify yourself with this image of refinery? (Robertson) Do you feel like getting your hands on the bargain store chocolate wrapped in gold so that you can share in the delights of the rich and powerful? While the ridiculousness of Ferrero’s Ambassadors’ reception theme came under fire in Europe (Crowther), the fact remains that this plays on the real narrative of chocolate and sugar, and consumers consumed it. We could not enjoy the cheap thrill of a sweet bite without first enduring the insatiable European hunger for market dominance and forced labor. The reality of cacao and sugar plantations as drivers of the slave trade and the reason for which chocolate remains an inexpensive commodity for consumers is well documented, particularly in this course (Coe; Martin; Mintz). Yet, Ferrero, “the fourth largest confectionery company in the world,” continues to create theses ads that prey on class divides and the idea that we should want the life they’re selling. We should crave something built on the backs of African and Indigenous people, brutalized into submission. We should crave the wealth that this industry created for white men. We should crave the commodity of a ‘finely’ dressed woman. We should want this chocolate gold and the lifestyle rooted in classism, sexism, and racism that it comes with.

But can we separate the history from the commodity? My observations tell me that that is exactly what many people do. How else are we so comfortable eating and celebrating something that is so tainted by the blood of others? I mean, forced labor isn’t still a thing. Or is it? The Big Five have come under fire over the last 20 years for child labor violations, worker abuses, and—the most egregious of matters—slavery—the bulk of which occurs in West Africa, a region that produces around 70% of the world’s chocolate. By 2000, the public’s awareness around present-day slavery had given way to documentaries, news articles, and a push by U.S. Senator Tom Harkin and U.S. Congressman Eliot Engel to enact the Harkin-Engel Protocol. The Protocol hoped to “eliminate the worst forms of child labor and forced labor from all cocoa farms worldwide by July 2005.” (Leissle) It hasn’t been entirely effective, but the Protocol was met with an impetus from consumers and companies that do care to do chocolate better. Examples of such include those listed on the Food Empowerment Project website and Divine Chocolate.

So, I offer my own advertisement for Ferrero to consider using this holiday season.

My Ferrero Rocher Golden Christmas alternative.
My Ferrero Rocher Golden Christmas alternative.

Pictured in this ad are a family and their neighbors enjoying the chocolates that they’ve helped to produce. We can make this assumption because of the cacao trees in the background. In the spirit of Christmas and magical moments, the cacao trees are adorned with stars and Christmas balls, setting the festive mood. The magic is in the people. They are dressed casually, their body language is comfortable, and they appear to be healthy and happy. They manage to enjoy their holiday party without the pretentious frivolities of the Ambassadors’ reception because what matters most is their time spent together. The imagery boasts an everyday, working family’s reality while the words—the same as in the original Ferrero Rocher advertisement—help to redefine for the audience what premium quality, refinement, and sophistication can mean. This new face of Ferrero Rocher’s quality doesn’t include over-sexualized women, European specialties in their mouths, or servants. It simply celebrates people, hard work, good taste, and community.

Ferrero Rocher and other Big Five chocolates might never be portrayed in this light, but one can hope. We can hope that in time, chocolate heirs and advertisers will begin to recognize their own implication in the perpetuation of classism, slavery, and unjust labor practices. We can hope that they will actually work to eradicate such abuses. Then, perhaps, after they’ve strived to create a more responsible and accountable industry, they will deploy advertising campaigns that don’t rely on trite clichés. In the meantime, it is up to everyday consumers to recognize how terribly large companies and advertisers treat us, and to call them out frequently.

Works Cited

Allen, Lawrence L. Chocolate Fortunes: The Battle for the Hearts, Minds, and Wallets of China’s Consumers. New York: American Management Association, 2010.

Coe, Sophie D. and Coe, Michael D. The True History of Chocolate. Revised [and Updated Ed.]. ed. New York: Thames and Hudson, 2007. Print.

Crowther, John. “You’re spoiling us, Mr. Ambassador! That laughable Ferrero Rocher advert wasn’t a joke at all – it was the Italians’ idea of style and class.” DailyMail.co.uk. Updated 23 April 2011. Online. Accessed 7 April 2015 at http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-1379948/Youre-spoiling-Mr-Ambassador-And-making-chocolates-laughing-stock-That-Ferrero-Rocher-advert-wasnt-joke–Italians-idea-style-class.html.

Leissle, Kristy. “Invisible West Africa: The Politics of Single Origin Chocolate.” Gastronomica: The Journal of Food and Culture, Vol. 13, No. 3. (Fall 2013), pp. 22-31.

Leissle, Kristy. “Cosmopolitan cocoa farmers: refashioning Africa in Divine Chocolate advertisements.” Journal of African Cultural Studies 24 (2) (2012): 121-139.

Martin, Carla D. “Slavery, Abolition, and Forced Labor.” Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food. Harvard Extension School: Cambridge, MA. 3 March. 2015. Class Lecture.

Martin, Carla D. “Lecture 9: Race, ethnicity, gender, and class in chocolate advertisements’” Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food. Harvard Extension School: Cambridge, MA. 1 April. 2015. Class Lecture.

Mintz, Sidney Wilfred. Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History. New York: Penguin, 1986. Print.

“Mission.” Ferrero USA, Inc., n.d. http://www.ferrerousa.com/ferrero-group/mission/ferrero-values.

Robertson, Emma. Chocolate, Women and Empire: A Social and Cultural History. Manchester: Manchester UP, 2009. Print.

“Share your Golden Christmas.” YouTube video. Posted 28 November 2011. Accessed at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JCF5Z-m1c0I.

“The Ambassador’s Party.” YouTube video. Posted 27 May 2007. Accessed at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4P-nZZkQqTc.

The Charcoal Donut: Race and Gender in Asian Chocolate Advertising

The Dunkin' Donuts advert in full. Photograph: Dunkin' Donuts/Facebook
The Dunkin’ Donuts advert in full. Photograph: Dunkin’ Donuts/Facebook

 “We’re not allowed to use black to promote our donuts? I don’t get it. What’s the big fuss? What if the product was white and I painted someone white? Would that be racist?”

-Nadim Salhani, CEO of Dunkin’ Donuts Thailand

The original advertisement I chose for this assignment was a 2013 Thai poster promoting the “Charcoal Donut” by Dunkin Donuts, a chocolate cake covered in a chocolate glaze. The Charcoal Donut campaign features a young woman painted in black-face with a stereotypical 1950s beehive hairstyle and emphasized pink lips. The model, baring naked shoulders, is holding the product. In Thai, the slogan reads “Break every rule of deliciousness” (Gabott).

The advertisement is particularly disturbing because of the representation of race to promote the product. The black-face model is used as a metaphor for the chocolate, colored the same dark shade in the poster. Additionally, the name of the product, the “Charcoal Donut” suggests association with dirtiness and soot. Nadim Salhani, the CEO of Dunkin Donuts Thailand, defended the campaign, questioning “We’re not allowed to use black to promote our doughnuts? I don’t get it. What’s the big fuss?” (Babbatt). The “big fuss” is the dark past of chocolate,“deeply interwoven with the history of imperial exploitation of non-white peoples” (Robertson 172). Controversy over juxtaposing chocolate and colored people in advertising is not about color as a metaphor; the racial and historical implications are problematic, especially given the geographic placement of the ad. While such a campaign would cause “howls of outrage” in the US”,  questionable racial attitudes are widespread in Thailand, where 28% of the population would disapprove of having neighbors of a different race (Purnell). Discussing chocolate advertising in the European market, Emma Robertson writes “European racialized imaginings of cocoa are not pure coincidence; they are evidence of a shared history of European colonial exploitation…and of the complicated intertextuality of white western racist popular culture” (Robertson 180). A similar attitude holds true in Thai popular culture, where products like Unilever’s Citra Pearly White UV body lotion and Black Man household mops are commonplace (Purnell). Most concerning, such a campaign would incite public backlash and boycott of the responsible company in the US. In Thailand, sales for the Charcoal donut increased about 50% within two weeks of the campaign being launched (Gecker).

An event advertising the Charcoal Donut from Dunkin Donuts in Thailand
An event advertising the Charcoal Donut from Dunkin Donuts in Thailand

Gender and sexuality are also themes in this advertisement. The young woman in the poster is being sexualized with dramatic hair, pink, exaggerated lips curled in a closed seductive smile and completely bare shoulders. This portrayal combined with the racial representation contributes to an imperial fetishization of women of color. The slogan, “Break every rule of deliciousness” accompanies this theme. This shows a common trend amongst women in chocolate advertising, “long-standing associations with female sexuality” (Robertson 30). Originally portrayed as mothers and housewives, women in chocolate advertising have evolved to young, attractive, scantily-dressed female characters “obsessed by the product” who “project their hetreosexual yearnings and fantasies on chocolate consumption” (Robertson 35). Even if the advertisement features female characters, the “commentary to the advert takes on masculine tone of rationality and paternalism”, similar to the Dunkin Donuts ad (Robertson 33).

For my advertisement, I made a “white” version of the same controversial donut ad, substituting the black-face model with a white woman and the chocolate donut with a vanilla donut. I renamed the product the “Ivory Donut”. This advertisement posed new concerns regarding race and gender in advertising.

Advertisement for the "Ivory Donut"
Advertisement for the “Ivory Donut”

The faux “Ivory Donut” had racist undertones even though the ad did not include a colored model or reference colored people. The light skin of the model would be used as a metaphor for a product portrayed as light, delectable, fun and sweet. The new name, the “Ivory Donut” would also indicate “whiteness” but also luxury, purity and wealth. Additionally, I believe that this advertisement would be problematic in the Thai market because it would be promoting Western constraints of beauty in a society that struggles with race relations and glorifies fair-skinned people (Gecker). The new poster also incorporates female sexuality and the feminine obsession with desserts; this donut also has a bite taken out of it, as if the woman could not control her urge and ate it.

I believe these ads represent a new trend in the role of race and gender in chocolate and dessert advertising, especially in the Asian market. Perhaps the blatant racism of the ad would not be tolerated in the United States but the inappropriate representation of race and gender seems international. However, I believe more ads like this will appear in Thailand other Asian countries given their society’s glorification of Western beauty, widespread racial discrimination and fairly new and experimental chocolate market.

Race is often incorporated into Thai advertising
Race is often incorporated into Thai advertising
Works Cited
Gabbatt, Adam. “Dunkin’ Donuts Apologises for ‘bizarre and Racist’ Thai Advert.” The Guardian. N.p., 30 Aug. 2013. Web. 10 Apr. 2015.
GECKER, By JOCELYN. “Dunkin’ Donuts Apologizes for Blackface Advert.” AP Online. Associated Press, 30 Aug. 2013. Web. 10 Apr. 2015.
Purnell, Newley. “Images Spark Racism Debate in Thailand.” The New Yorker 31 Oct. 2013: n. pag. Print.
Robertson, Emma. “Chocolate Consumption.” Chocolate, Women and Empire: A Social and Cultural History. Manchester: Manchester UP, 2009. 1-31. Print.
Robertson, Emma, Michael Pickering, Anandi Ramamurthy, and Wulf D. Hund. Bittersweet Temptations: Race and the Advertising of CocoaColonial Advertising & Commodity Racism. N.p.: n.p., 2013. 171-96. Print.

Betty White, football, and the potential for positive portrayals of the elderly in chocolate advertising

Advertisements reflect implicit, sometimes unrealized internal biases that we have inherited from society, and simultaneously reinforce that bias. Robertson writes that advertisements “position us in relation to that product as gendered, classed and raced beings” (19). Beyond racial and gender stereotypes, the ad I analyze in this blog post also utilizes problematic stereotypes about age to sell its product. The advertisement portrays an elderly subject in a way that ridicules, disempowers, and reinforces disrespectful stereotypes about the elderly as weak, and therefore undesirable. However, I will argue that advertising does not need to further entrench these harmful messages in order to sell their products; instead, advertisements can and should market their products while being a positive, active force in reshaping harmful societal stereotypes; in this case, by showcasing the elderly as strong, capable, and deserving of respect.

Problematic portrayals of marginalized populations in chocolate advertising are unfortunately commonplace. Racism is prevalent throughout chocolate advertising, such as in Rowntree’s Honeybunch, “a distinct racial caricature” with exaggerated features and stereotypical African-American vernacular (Robertson 41). Gender stereotypes are also prevalent: women are often fetishized as mothers, such as in the following advertisement, which appeals to a mother’s self-doubt and anxiety about making the right food choices for her family, by playing itself up as the choice of the savvy housewife and devoted mother. And when it comes to age in chocolate advertising, typically it is children, not the elderly, who are the targeted age demographic. Targeting children is a commonly exploited way of marketing these products; companies spend about $17 billion annually marketing to children (Martin, lecture slides), and psychosocial manipulation is often used, such as when “grocery stores place colorful boxes of sugary cereals on lower shelves where children can easily see and reach them” (Quelch). Thinking critically about chocolate advertisements can reveal our cultural blindspots to inequality and prejudice.

When the opposite end of the age spectrum is used in chocolate advertising, such as in this Snickers commercial, it is using to use age as a ridiculing punchline:

The underlying basis of this Snickers advertisement is that when the main character gets hungry, he turns into an Other, or in this case, Betty White. This Other personality is obnoxious, unwanted, and incompetent, and can only be dismissed (to the great relief of everyone) when the person eats a Snickers bar. There are many problems with the way Betty White, as an elderly woman, is portrayed and stereotyped in this commercial. She is shown struggling to keep up in a game of football with several young men. When they break for a huddle, the other men rail on her for playing poorly. She lashes back with attitude and provokes the beginnings of a fight. Ultimately, this commercial feeds into the perception of the elderly as weak, irritable, incompetent, and undesirable. She is weak in that she is physically frail and unable to play; she is irritable in that she lashes out when criticized (like the stereotype of the cantankerous old neighbor); she is incompetent in that she fails to hold up her role in the team and disappoints her teammates; and ultimately, she is undesirable, because the point of the commercial is that eating a Snickers gets rid of her.

Using an elderly woman as a marketing tool punchline for Snickers is ironic, as Robertson describes how many elderly women, such as in Bamikemo, are respected and powerful farmers and supervisors of cacao farms, “occupying positions of increased status within cocoa farming and the community as a whole” (105). The fact that these women, at the ages of 50, 60, or even 70 years of age are still spraying, harvesting, and managing these cocoa farms, while simultaneously continuing to engage in childcare and other domestic responsibilities, is remarkable. This makes Snickers’ ad particularly uncomfortable and disempowering, because they have taken a product that strong, capable, and admirable older women have had a hand in creating, and used ridiculing stereotypes of age and gender in order to market it.

Instead, we felt that Snickers could have created a commercial that admired and respected the elderly, while also selling its product:


This storyboard for a commercial sets up the scene in a similar way: the Betty White character is playing football with the young men, but this time, she is out-playing them, despite her age. The group then gets into a huddle, but instead of insulting her, they inquire admiringly about her impressive performance. In response, the elderly woman tells them she is so quick, fit, and strong because, in her words, “I’ve been eating Snickers all my life!” This simultaneously positively promotes the product (it is not only satisfying, it is fortifying as well) and portrays the elderly character as an aspirational figure and someone to be respected. Instead of the punchline, she is now the hero; instead of a nuisance to be dismissed, she is a real person whose performance makes her the star. Instead of perpetuating ideas of the elderly as weak, unwanted, and irritating, this new commercial actually actively works to change cultural perceptions and discourse about the elderly.

Advertisements reflect implicit biases we hold, whether about race, gender, or age. But advertisements are not strictly passive in reflecting our biases for us; they constructively shape our cultural understandings and social ideas. Therefore, advertisers like Snickers have a responsibility to catalyze positive change in how we think about marginalized populations in our society like the elderly, by portraying them as the nuanced, considered, strong and venerable figures they are.

Works Cited

Martin, Carla. “Lecture 17: Race, ethnicity, gender, and class in chocolate advertisements.” Lecture. April 1, 2015.

Quelch, John. All Business is Local: Why Place Matters More Than Ever in a Global, Virtual World. New York: Penguin, 2012.

Robertson, Emma. Chocolate, women and empire. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2009.

Deliciously dark. Mostly offensive.

Imagine flipping through a magazine and you come across this ad.


Source: https://www.behance.net/gallery/681923/Cadbury-Bournville-(2009

What sticks out to you? Is it the weird-alien- head? Or maybe it’s the weird mini people living in the alien head? Maybe you are asking yourself, “Why is she wearing pigtails?” (Because let’s be honest, who wears pigtails WITH pink ribbons nowadays?)

Yet, if we take time to truly look at the ad, we can begin to see there are much deeper meanings and subtle insinuations being presented. More importantly, there emerges a narrative that is deeply embedded in the history of chocolate. Historically, chocolate has been tied to some very problematic advertisements surrounding race and women.Cadbury Bournville Chocolate  unfortunately falls into this category with their “Deliciously Dark” campaign – consider is big WOMP, WOMP. Although the campaign aims to promote feelings of releasing the darker side of consumers (insert evil villain laugh here), there are several aspects of this advertisement that are troublesome and simply objectify woman. Aside from her Britney Spears, “hit me baby one more time” ensemble, the combination of big doe like eyes, the child-like pig tails, and glasses makes this working woman immediately reduced to a young innocent girl. This deliberate choice of portraying her as a young and naïve girl writes her into a submissive role. Yet, she is not too submissive to be seductive, which is why there is a glossed and colored lip on the girl. Notice how the chocolate is placed next to her full, shiny lips further sexualizing the subject of the add. Interestingly enough, this scenario is placed in what looks like a cubicle, which leads me to believe that she is some kind of assistant. There becomes a dynamic for which she is stereotyped as a young, dumb, blonde – and perpetuates this idea that the only thing a woman can do in an office setting is administrative duties. What’s more bothersome is the portrayal of her “dark” fantasy version of her in the clear head which, to me, has some underlying message of girls are “airheads” and in positions of inferiority. But once she becomes the boss in her head, she is now wearing more revealing clothing, and again is sexualized even further. Sadly, there are more of these “dark” ads.

chocolatead (1) copy


Source: my drawing

In response to the “delicious” but highly sexist ads, I drew a “Passions” ad. Here the tagline reads, “WE CAN DO IT…AND HAVE IT ALL!” The image was inspired by the “Rosie the Riveter”, or J. Miller’s famous “We Can Do It!” poster from the WWII era, which promoted strong female roles.


Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/We_Can_Do_It!

As you can see in the drawing, the woman is standing in her high rise, corner office indicating she is highly successful in her firm. I strategically placed things throughout the office to portray a strong, successful, family oriented, and intelligent woman. For instance, you can see she has a Harvard degree on her wall; she has a family in a frame on her desk; her nametag on the desk reads “CEO” (subtle hints that she earned her position); and she also recycles! I attempted to make her in a more realistic body type instead of the continuous slender models who usually appear in ads. I also tried to portray a more ethnically diverse woman, which has curly wild hair and most likely a minority in most situations – promoting the idea of women in positions of power. Additionally, I created this strong woman to combat the earlier woman’s ad, because you can be smart, successful beautiful and hard working without having to compromise anything – especially your chocolate!


Robertson, Emma. Chocolate, women and empire: A social and cultural history. Manchester and New York: Manchester University Press, 2009. Print

Women and Chocolate: The False Representation In Chocolate Ads

In chocolate advertisements, women are often portrayed as animals who are easily sexually aroused by chocolate. One of the typical stories in the advertisement would show a woman having the first bite and, in a flash, they shut their eyes in sexual pleasure. Another type of situation in a chocolate ad is when women would fight over one piece of chocolate like it is a sex-object. Most ads for chocolate from the United States (20th century to the present day) are often sexist and degrading like the first piece of evidence in this post.

This is a commercial which aired in the United States on various TV channels in 2008 for men’s cologne called “AXE: Dark Temptation.”

The ad description explains the outcome after using the product in the video description: “he becomes as irresistible as chocolate…” So there is a young man (perhaps a teenager?) applying the product to become more appealing. All of the sudden he becomes a chocolate man. He breaks off his body parts to share with girls or they just take a bite out of him (even two of them lick him in a movie theater in sheer excitement!). By the end of the video, several women rush out of the gym and against the glass window hoping to get this chocolate man. Women driving by tear his arm off like savages. The ad itself is shocking, highly offensive and sexist. It conveys negative concepts such as cannibalism and dependence on sexual activity. The ad labels women as aggressive and desperate supermodels looking for a ‘mate’ (Robertson, 2010). Assuming that women love chocolate and use it for sexual activity, it is as if the company used that concept to their advantage (Robertson, 2010). The next advertisement which is an original one I have constructed challenges the offensive label.

A sad chocolate man ponders "What could be better than me?" As he looks at a happy couple.
A sad chocolate man ponders “What could be better than me?” As he looks at the happy couple.

The woman in the ad is shown having a real relationship with a human being underneath a cacao pod (the woman pays no attention to the cacao pod). However, on the other side, the chocolate man sits there, confused and upset with unconsumed Godiva truffle organs in his body. He thinks ‘what could be better than me?’ The story ends with text explaining what is better than consuming a chocolate man for sexual pleasure, a relationship with a man which does not always involve sex. The original ad shown above is for chocolate but the woman’s personality is not stereotyped. This advert deserves its praise due to the fact that it demonstrates women are not easily tricked into buying chocolate for sexual pleasure. The ad demonstrates how women are not sexually aroused by this simple ‘enjoyable treat.’ Ads like this one should become popular in the industry, so the goal for gender equality is present. Sadly, not many like that exist in the United States.

Of course sexism in ads not only occurs in the United States, but in other countries as well.

This commercial comes from the Schmitten Chocolate company in India. It was uploaded only a year ago on the company’s official YouTube channel recently (in 2014). In commercials like this one, they show beautiful women but their personality is minimized to being obsessive over a simple, delicious treat. The models also can be negatively labeled as having remarkable beauty, little intelligence and being a part of the upper-class elite (Leissle, 2012). Consumers must take action and defend against the stereotypes women are given in advertisements. It is impertinent and appalling to see women’s personalities lowered to being sexually desperate for chocolate.

To conclude, the modern consumer needs to be aware of the false, stereotypical representations of women in chocolate advertisements and push back against these typecasts. This has become an enormous problem in today’s society and it demonstrates the gender inequality between the opposite sexes.

Works Cited



Robertson, Emma. Chocolate, Women and Empire: A Social and Cultural History. Manchester and New York: Manchester University Press, 2010. Print.

Kristy Leissle (2012): Cosmopolitan Cocoa Farmers: Refashioning Africa in Divine Chocolate advertisements, Journal of African Cultural Studies, 24:2, 121-139

Sources for Original Advertisement





Selling Chocolate

Sex sells, or at the very least, it dominates many advertisements (print, digital, TV, etc.) nowadays.  Marketing products or goods with sex is somewhat of a modern approach to advertising, but chocolate is one of the few products that were highly sought after by women for its reported aphrodisiac properties and other benefits.  There are some extreme accounts that dates back as early as the 1700’s where chocolate was being used as love potions and spells in Guatemala.  This very long association with chocolate, sex, and women along with the advent of television, media devices, and large print distribution centers perpetuates a defective thought that chocolate, women, and sex are synonymous.

Figure 1: Image of Axe: Chocolate. There was a series of print ads and television commercials transforming a standard man into chocolate. Women proceed to congregate around this man because he is simply “as irresistible as chocolate.” Illustrates the perceived notion that chocolate, sex, and women are synonymous.  Original Source: http://www.wpp.com/wppedcream/2009/images/original/wppedcream_2009_Page_173_Image_0001.jpg

One of the earliest and extreme historical accounts of the relationship between chocolate and sex was in Guatemala in 1705.  There was a description of “women who acted ‘disorderly’ […] often included descriptions of women’s illicit sexual activity and practices of sexual witch-craft, where women took advantage of their roles in food preparation to assert power over the men in their lives.  Because of its dark color and grainy texture, chocolate provided ideal cover for items associated with sexual witchcraft” (Few, 678).  This illustrates that there is historical context of chocolate being associated with sex.  Unfortunately, over the years the sexualization of chocolate has become more and more overt.  In Catherine Coleman’s “Dessert: Heavenly or Sinful?  Consumption, Carnality, and Spirituality in Food Advertising,” Coleman explores the aspects of visual representation in regards to food and sexuality.  She mentions that there are many dimensions of the relationship of food and sex which include women being “portrayed with insatiable appetites; these images are used solely metaphorically to imply sexual appetite” or even more extreme, food “being an erotic experience in and of itself” (Coleman, 176).  There are many levels to sexual imagery and some are more explicit than others.

One example of an ad that alludes to sexual imagery is from Dove chocolate.

Figure 2: Image of a still print Dove Chocolate advertisement.  Original Source: http://thesocietypages.org/socimages/files/2010/11/dove.jpg

The ad aims to market a Dove Chocolate bar that comes in three individual packets being able to “last longer than you can resist.  Unwrap.  Indulge. Repeat…  Savor them slowly.  My moment. My Dove.”  There are three images they use to deliver this message – a woman, brown silk, and chocolate.  However, what dominates the majority of the ad is the woman and the italicized “Unwrap.  Indulge.  Repeat.”  The brown silk that surrounds the woman represents the chocolate’s silkiness and reaffirms the overall Dove brand.  Objectively, the advertisement is trying to illustrate that Dove chocolate is smooth, pleasurable, and now can be enjoyed more than once.  The visual images along with the stylized words, “last longer than you can resist”, primes the reader to suggestive thoughts.  The woman is objectified because she becomes a sexual object for chocolate.  While Dove’s general marketing image is positive and they are well known for their work in body image acceptance and beauty, this ad illustrates that Dove has used objectifying ads to perpetuate the use of harmful stereotypes.

Below is an ad that I have created in response to Dove’s original chocolate ad.

Figure 3: Ad that I have created which attempts to retain the original message of the Dove ad, but is represented with different visuals.  Original Source: Me

Given that the overall message of the ad is about the chocolate being silky smooth, pleasurable, and can last longer, I changed the primary image to a dove for immediate brand recognition. The dove is holding a silk ribbon to represent the chocolate’s silky smooth texture, and the words have been rearranged to fit where I felt was appropriate.  I feel that this is a different visual representation that delivers the same message as the original.  However, the argument can be made that I used an animal instead of a woman and therefore made the advertisement asexual or makes it less personable to other consumers.  However, I just wished to illustrate that delivering the same information and generating brand recognition is still possible without relying on the sexual objectification of women.  Furthermore, in the original Dove ad, the woman is primarily used as decoration and illustrates no functional purpose to advertising the chocolate.  Therefore, while my change is purely aesthetic and the objective message is the same, the sexual narrative has been lessened.

This is not to say that I do not believe women should be removed from chocolate advertisements in general because their mere presence implies sexualization (this is a dangerous overgeneralization), but chocolate has a history of being sexualized.   It stems from a historical belief of chocolate’s aphrodisiac effects, which presently, is only a fabrication to use women as sexual objects to sell a product.  Women can and should still be used in chocolate advertisements but their portrayal should not establish a culture of harmful stereotypes.

Works Cited

Coleman, C. (2008). Dessert: Heavenly or sinful? Consumption, carnality and spirituality in food advertising. European Advances in Consumer Research8, 175.

Few, M. (2005). Chocolate, Sex, and Disorderly Women in Late-Seventeenth- and Early-Eighteenth-Century Guatemala. Ethnohistory,52(4), 673-687.

Rebranding Nesquik to Attract Career-minded Women outside Traditional Stereotypes

Gender and role specific themes have long been used in advertising. Chocolate became available to the working class in the 1800s and from that point on, advertisements told mothers and housewives that cocoa is a healthy, respectable, family product (Robertson 2010:20-21). Advertisements targeting women outside this traditional stereotype developed as women became increasingly liberated from domestic roles. A close reading of a current Nestlé’s ad targeting women in child nurturing roles followed by a close reading of a response ad that disconnects women from traditional stereotypes and rebrands Nesquik as a product enjoyed by college-professional women shows both ads to use advertising techniques effectively and to be part of larger socio-historical trends.

The current Nestlé’s ad shows a woman preparing Nesquik for herself and two children. Shown here:


Visual aspects of this ad place the product front and center with its lid off. A milk carton is next to the product and the woman stirring a glass indicates ease of preparation. The people are dressed in casual, modern-day clothing, the kitchen is clean, and a bowl of fruit and kitchen supplies are neatly organized in the background indicating a caring, hygienic environment.

This well-kept kitchen environment contributes to ethos, logos, and pathos used as advertising techniques. Ethos or moral trustworthiness is used by presenting a mother who cares enough to keep her kitchen clean and who trusts Nesquik enough to give it to her children. Leaving the lid off the container revealing its content also encourages trust. The image indicates that ordinary families with good values use this product. Logos or logic is used by displaying a carton of milk indicating that Nesquik mixed with milk is nutritious. This is in keeping with the trend of advertising cocoa as good for growing children’s bone and muscle (Robertson 2010:21). This type of ad appeals to the stereotype of women as guardians of family health and welfare and targets women who see themselves as buying only safe and healthy products for their children (Robertson 2010:53-54). Pathos or emotion is used to persuade as well. Happiness is felt in the characters’ physical closeness, eagerness, and the little girl’s grin. Overall, the story being told is that morally-responsible, logical mothers buy Nestlé’s Nesquik and share close, happy, and healthy moments with their children.

There is a long history of ads using the nurturing mother narrative, reflecting socio-historical trend. For instance, Rowntree ran ads in the 1930s called the Special Mother Campaign (Robertson 2010:21). Exampled here:


These ads highlighted chocolate as a nutritious food that mothers could feel good about giving to their children and that would supply energy to get work done throughout the day (Robertson 2010:21). The current Nestlé’s Nesquik ad is part of this longstanding socio-historical trend.

My team created a response ad to the current Nestlé’s ad by disconnecting Nesquik from motherhood and rebranding it as a product enjoyed by college-professional women. Shown here:

chocolate advertisement

Gaffney, Leah and Cornelius, Rachael.
Gaffney, Leah and Cornelius, Rachael.

The image is of two modern-day, professionally dressed women seated in an office-study area looking over papers. Visual aspects draw attention to Nesquik by placing it in center field, balancing its level of view with a coffee cup, and offering an inadvertent finger point toward it. The easy carry bottle indicates convenience. One newspaper on the table indicates a college environment and another reminds that women’s roles have changed. The industrial fire alarm indicates an office setting rather than a home.

This professional environment contributes to ethos, logos, and pathos advertising techniques used in this advertisement. The theme of women driven toward professional goals suggests responsibility, ethics, or ethos. Their intellectual focus lends trust that these women have developed a successful work routine that includes Nesquik. Using logos, Nesquik is equated with energy by placing it at an equal visual level with coffee. Consuming energy drinks to help stay alert has long been accepted as safe and logical. Pathos is also used to persuade. The vision of women working together toward a common intellectual goal creates a happy sense of professional sisterhood. Overall, the advertisement tells the story that women’s roles have changed as have the roles of products and that collaborative, intellectual experiences are augmented by drinking energy drinks such as Nesquik.

This ad targets women outside traditional roles as part of a more recent socio-historical trend. For instance, chocolate was advertised in the 1930s as boosting productivity in working roles for women such as typing (Robertson 2010:24). Ads marketing chocolate as an energy source gained momentum in the 1940s when war efforts increased the number of women working outside the home (Robertson 2010:54). Apart from the food-energy theme, the response ad emphasizes intellectual pursuit consistent with the women’s independence trend. Starting in the 1950s, ads reflected women’s social, political, and sexual liberation (Robertson 2010:54). There is an element of professional style, confidence, and intelligence offered by the women in the response ad that is similar in message to that of the new Divine Chocolate ads depicting stylish, intelligent, African female business owners disconnected from stereotyped nurturing roles (Leissle 2002:121). Exampled here:


Although the Divine ad is different from the response ad in some ways, such as culture, setting, and dress, both ads deliver the message that successful career-oriented women enjoy chocolate and both are part of the more recent socio-historical trend of women operating outside traditional stereotypes.

Both the current Nestlé’s ad targeting women in nurturing roles and the response ad targeting women in college-professional roles use persuasive techniques effectively to reach consumers and reflect ongoing trends. Running ads such as these concurrently may strengthen Nesquik’s appeal even more for women who are both mothers and career professionals. For instance, mothers who make Nesquik at home with their children may also be persuaded to take it to work in easy to use containers. Overall, ads such as these that capture the interest of certain groups and reflect socio-historical trends successfully sell chocolate.

References Cited

Divine Chocolate. (2013). Two dimensional image. Impressivemagazinee.com. Web. 5, April 2015. https://www.google.com/search?q=divine+chocolate+with+social+flavour&biw=1288&bih=768&site=webhp&source=lnms&tbm=isch&sa=X&ei=BoglVbXpN8X7sAXVooGgDw&ved=0CAcQ_AUoAg#imgrc=IexN32w1_W78aM%253A%3B6H4NGaE06p6vzM%3Bhttp%253A%252F%252Fimpressivemagazine.com%252Fwp-content%252Fuploads%252F2013%252F07%252Fdivine-ad.jpg%3Bhttp%253A%252F%252Fimpressivemagazine.com%252F2013%252F07%252F24%252Fdivine-chocolate-with-social-flavour%252F%3B600%3B775

Gaffney, Leah and Rachael Cornelius. “Chocolate Advertisement.” 2015. JPEG file.

Leissle, Kristy. (2012). Cosmopolitan cocoa farmers: refashioning Africa in Divine Chocolate advertisements. Journal of African Cultural Studies, 24 (2), pp. 121-139.

Nesquik commercial with Bret Loehr. (2010). Two dimensional image from video. Youtube.com. Web. 5, April 2015. https://www.google.com/search?q=nestle+nesquik+advertisement&biw=1288&bih=768&site=webhp&tbm=isch&tbo=u&source=univ&sa=X&ei=DX4lVcDmBIeXsAXR1oGoBQ&ved=0CCoQsAQ&dpr=1#imgrc=IqVG6Vi0s_COCM%253A%3Bz01l0OoAMr5zIM%3Bhttp%253A%252F%252Fi.ytimg.com%252Fvi%252FWEHdT2Ycto0%252Fhqdefault.jpg%3Bhttp%253A%252F%252Fwww.youtube.com%252Fwatch%253Fv%253DWEHdT2Ycto0%3B480%3B360

Robertson, Emma. (2010). Chocolate, Women and Empire: A Social and Cultural History. New York: Manchester University Press. pp 1-131.

Rowntree’s-Cocoa. (1930s). Two dimensional image. Advertisementsindia.com. Web. 5, April 2015. http://www.advertisementsindia.com/2011/05/rowntrees-cocoa/

Snickers, Football, and Betty White: Battling Ageist Attitudes One Touchdown at a Time


In this Snickers commercial, a group of young men are playing football, when one of them tackles an elderly woman, played by Betty White. As White gets up, her blue pastel pajamas muddied, she begins to yell at the football players. A young woman then runs from the sidelines and gives White a Snickers bar, transforming her into a youthful, sporty, young man. “You’re not you when you’re hungry,” the narrator proclaims. The commercial closes with an elderly man being tackled.

This Snickers advertisement portrays a rare demographic in television: the elderly. While we may examine chocolate advertisements in terms of being sexist or racist, we never think of them as being “ageist.” This is partly because of the elderly’s portrayal as “invisible.” While Americans over 60 make up nearly 17% of the population, they only accounted for 5.4% of all network prime-time characters and 4% of the casts for daytime serials (Gerbner and Gross, 1993). The elderly are rarely portrayed in advertisements, and when they are, they are shown in a negative light. This is due to the youth-oriented marketing culture. Companies focus on “cradle to grave marketing,” because youth are supposedly more likely to try new products. The elderly, however, are seen as “set in their ways.” Thus, the lack of positive portrayals (or any kind of portrayals, for that matter) of the elderly is due to the idea that marketing to them is useless.

This marketing mentality has led to many commercials full of subtle derision for the elderly. In a now infamous Wendy’s commercial, three “little old ladies” repeatedly ask “where’s the beef?” as they look at a burger. In another ad, a 101-year-old woman goes ballistic when she finds out that there is no Coca-Cola. This portrayal of the elderly as frail and irrational fits the Snickers advertisement perfectly.

This type of Snickers ad relies on a simple before and after device. Before, the main character is grumpy, fussy, and annoying. But, after eating a Snickers bar, that person returns to their “normal” state. Snickers’ use of an elderly woman in the before state implies that being elderly is something that one should avoid. What is particularly interesting about this advertisement is the fact that it stars Betty White, one of the few elderly actresses in Hollywood. Betty White’s exuberant personality, quirky humor, and strong career (at age 92) have challenged many ideas around what aging looks like. The fact that Betty White would participate in a commercial that ultimately stigmatizes her own demographic is somewhat disturbing. But then, it seems that these media stereotypes are not seen as stigmas, but as truths.

In 2013, Betty White broke the Guinness World Record for the longest television career of any female in history. Image courtesy of CNN.
In 2013, Betty White broke the Guinness World Record for the longest television career of any female in history. Image courtesy of CNN.

These “truthful” images links the elderly with neatly manicured nursing home lawns, crystalline pools, and non-threatening pastel suits—all with a side of prune juice. This portrayal of the elderly as impotent is what leads to the “second childhood” trope. This trope is based off of the “perceived abundance of leisure time” (PLACIM) in both youth and old age. Because neither children nor the elderly have to work, they are portrayed as having nothing to do except “to have fun.” However, on a darker note, children and the elderly are also portrayed as having no agency of their own, controlled by a generation of middle-aged adults. Senility also plays a role in this portrayal; unable to function like normal adults, the elderly revert to a more primitive, child-like existence.

In the Snickers commercial, White behaves very much like a child. She stops the game, complains about the other players, and, in short, is unable to “play nice” with the other kids. While companies should be troubled by the social effects of these tropes, they might be more effectively jolted into action by the financial repercussions of their marketing decisions. Many companies are ignoring the untapped 60+ market, because the elderly are seen as poor, dependent, and unwilling to change their buying habits. The adage “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks” reflects the negative connotations surrounding the elderly.

While American portrayals of the elderly suffer from this “cult of youth” mentality (Diamond), other cultures around the world view aging as a positive thing. In the Middle East, families live in multi-generational homes, and the Arabic words for “old man” and “old woman” are also titles assigned to respected religious leaders. In Korea, reaching old age is seen as an accomplishment, and 60th birthdays are seen as rites of passage (Diamond). Our goal is to infuse our counter-advertisement with these positive ideals of aging while simultaneously showing how age and happiness are not mutually exclusive.

The counter-advertisement.

In our counter advertisement, Betty White is once again playing football, but this time she plays aggressively and scores a touchdown. Meanwhile, the younger players around her cannot keep up. At halftime, they ask her how she stays so strong. Dressed in an athletic tracksuit, Betty White answers “because I eat Snickers,” and proceeds to play again. Here, we portray Betty White as wise and experienced, someone who “knows the rules of the game.” White’s advice suggests an intergenerational exchange of knowledge, as well as a revival of elder wisdom. Furthermore, the fact that she is wearing a tracksuit instead of her pastel blue pajama set means that she is fit and in the prime of her life—in this case, fitter than the younger players whose youth does not necessarily guarantee athleticism. In this way, our commercial dispels the negative imagery surrounding old age while simultaneously opening up a new market demographic for Snickers.


Dawn, Randee (September 6, 2013). “Betty White, ‘Breaking Bad’ earn ‘Guinness World Records’ titles”. Today.com. Retrieved October 13, 2013.

Gregoire, Carolyn. “7 Cultures That Celebrate Aging And Respect Their Elders.” The Huffington Post. The Huffington Post, 25 Feb. 2014. Web. 08 Apr. 2015.

Jacobs, Liz. “What It’s like to Grow Old, in Different Parts of the World.” TED, 25 Nov. 2013. Web. 08 Apr. 2015.

Joosen, Vanessa, and Lies Wesseling. “Linking Childhood and Old Age.” IRSCL. International Research Society for Children’s Literature, 29 Oct. 2014. Web. 5 Apr. 2014.

Lin, Judy. “Honor or Abandon: Societies’ Treatment of Elderly Intrigues Scholar.” Honor or Abandon: Societies’ Treatment of Elderly Intrigues Scholar. UCLA Newsroom, 07 Jan. 2010. Web. 04 Apr. 2015.

Martinez-Carter, Karina. “How the Elderly Are Treated around the World.” Week, 23 July 2013. Web. 08 Apr. 2015.

Trinity University. “Social Gerontology: Media Depictions.” Social Gerontology: Media Depictions. Trinity University, n.d. Web. 04 Apr. 2015.

Tupper, Meredith. “The Presentation of Elderly People in Prime Time Television Commercials.” Thesis. University of South Florida School of Mass Communications, n.d. The Representation of Elderly People in Prime Time Television Commercials RSS. Web. 08 Apr. 2015.

Can Sour Valentines Make 2015 Couples Pucker Up?

Chocolate historian Emma Robertson’s research on chocolate ads of the early 20th century explains how marketers attempted to tell women that the type of chocolate box gifted to them was an articulation of the gifting man’s quality.[2] The association between quality men and quality chocolate is challenged today by the emergence of sarcastic Valentines Day chocolate boxes onto American grocery store shelves.

Photo captured by author. SomeeCards image.
This photo, captured in a CVS in Cambridge, MA near Valentines Day 2015 shows the advertisement discussed in this blog as it appeared on shelves. Implications of the 1920’s era imagery alongside modern, simple font and sarcastic words are discussed here.

One key example is a cherry-red with white outline heart-shaped chocolate box found at CVS in Cambridge, Massachusetts. In simple Helvetica font, the heart reads: “There’s no one else I’d rather spend this annual obligation with.” To the right of the words is a black and white, unfinished sketching of an embracing white couple dressed in tuxedo and fancy dress, respectively, starring deeply into one another’s eyes. Both appear attractive and the woman’s sleek, up-doo or bob haircut alludes to 1920’s era haute style. The images are similar to those used by Cadbury and Rentree in post-WWI period, but accompany different contexts and words—instead of judging a man on the quality of the chocolate he gives you, now the intention of the man is under consideration. This new application of historical imagery addresses a modern sociohistorical context of commercializing Valentines Day and gender-neutral messages that could apply for a woman giving the chocolates to a woman as much as a man to woman.

The box’s cover art belongs to SomeeCards, a sarcastic website that posts holiday-specific images mocking traditional cards that visitors can email as e-cards. The casual, familiar, conversational tone of the SomeeCards chocolate box message is conveyed through the type of grammar used. Formal writing would read, “There is no one else with whom I would rather spend this obligation.” The way it appears on the box implies a more spoken or familiar association between the giver and recipient—hardly the same stilted, expectation-setting milieu of the 1920’s.

Also significant about the box cover is the innuendo accompanying the word “spend.” At first read, the “spend” refers to spending time with the recipient of the chocolates. However it could also be understood as spending money, as in, “There’s no one else I’d rather spend money on in participation of this obligation.” In that case, the chocolates are not just keeping up with expectation but also a reminder that the giver has literally “invested” in this relationship. In that case, perhaps the investor expects a form of repayment. As another online SomeeCards image jokes in direct response to this assumption: “Commercializing our sacred love is the least we can do for our country.”[4]

Property of SomeeCards.com
This e-card is from SomeeCards.com and offers a sarcastic response to the pre-made card industry. The wording of the e-card references the sociohistoric modern trend of commercializing Valentines Day.

Robertson explains that, “Advertising has created, and reinforced, particular uses and identities for each type of product…a box of chocolates may be bought as a gift (with all the social implications of the gift relationship).”[1] The power of these sarcastic chocolate boxes lies in their addressing what many consumers actually feel when buying Valentines Day chocolates: guilt and compulsion. Yet however conned they feel, they actually care enough about the recipient to participate. Giving a sarcastic box of chocolate thus shows that the giver is complying with the holiday’s compulsion while simultaneously mocking it. The fact that the couple can recognize the coercion demonstrates stability within their courtship because they can joke about the context of giving the chocolate without threatening the state of their relationship.

Messages on chocolate boxes speak to the buyer’s intent and receiver’s understanding of the gift. When the message is altered to state sarcastic comments, the context, intention, and outcome of the gift can change. To respond in kind with the sarcastic nature of SomeeCards, I created my own SomeeCards chocolate box cover that reads: “Chocolate: official sponsor of all holiday obligations.” I chose a pink background and featured women to address the reality that women are the key consumers of chocolate and most ads target their demographic.

This new ad, created by the author, also addresses the motivations consumers harbor when buying chocolate and unveils the role of Big Chocolate in setting expectations. Further analysis can be found within this blog.
This new ad, created by the author, also addresses the motivations consumers harbor when buying chocolate and unveils the role of Big Chocolate in setting expectations. Further analysis can be found within this blog.

Like the effect of the original ad, I uncover the purpose of the chocolate purpose–to fulfill an obligation–as well as Big Chocolate’s accomplishment in finding a way to intimately involve chocolate in every major holiday. My ad maintains the same simple Helvetica font and to the right of the words are four mid-twenties, white partygoers depicted in the same black and white sketch format. All are dressed elegantly. Three hold glasses of champaign while the fourth blows a party horn, conveying a ritzy celebration is at hand. The two men smile at the horn-blowing female while the first female looks directly at the viewer. Her shoulder slumps under the weight of the larger male’s hand while her eyes and smile convey a weakness, perhaps of fatigue or insincere enjoyment.

When the words of the ad combine with the lead female’s eyes and posture, we understand the pressure to meet the expectations of enjoyment, glamour, or impressiveness. Buying chocolate to fulfill holiday obligations is thus using the product to overcome the inadequacies felt by the lead female and convicts the buyer of motivations that traditional ads would ignore. Here too, the honesty of the ad reveals the underlying associations and feelings that women consumers harbor but ignore or cannot hear beneath the noise of stereotypical ads which tell them that their sexuality, satisfaction, and access to diva-hood all hinge on their decision to consumer chocolate.

Chocolate expert Lawrence Allan explains that, “To successfully capitalize on impulse [chocolate] puchas[ing] behavior, packaging must make an immediate and distinctive impression.” [7] In this study, both ads work to the disinterest of selling the product they accompany by unveiling the buyer’s actual impulses. Ironically, this may lead to increased sales of the boxes because the buyers find the honesty refreshing or humorous. Said a 24-year-old woman who bought the original SomeeCards box in front of me, “I’m buying this for my boyfriend. He’ll think it’s funny and it emphasizes what we love about our relationship–honesty.”

[1] Robertson, Emma. Chocolate, Women and Empire: A Social and Cultural History. 2010. Pg 15.

[1] Martin, Carla. AAAS E-119 lecture. February 10, 2015.

[2] Robertson, Emma. Chocolate, Women and Empire: A Social and Cultural History. 2010. Pg 31.

[3] http://www.someecards.com/

[4] http://www.someecards.com/ecards/valentines-day/

[5] Robertson, Emma. Chocolate, Women and Empire: A Social and Cultural History. 2010. Pg 15.

[6] Allan, Lawrence. Chocolate Fortunes: the Battle for the Hearts, Minds, and Wallets of China’s Consumers. 2010. Pg 31.

[7] Allan, Lawrence. Chocolate Fortunes: the Battle for the Hearts, Minds, and Wallets of China’s Consumers. 2010. Pg 31.

Women and Sugar Consumption

It was the astronomer Carl Sagan who said that “exponentials can’t go on forever, or they gobble up everything.” While Sagan was clearly not referencing the British appetite for sugar, the upward spike in sugar consumption makes his statement a relevant one. In the 1800s, British national consumption of sugar was a 300 million pounds. By 1852, it had reached a billion pounds—and was still climbing (Mintz). Meanwhile, the price of sugar was steadily decreasing.


From the Normal Eating Blog 

While it seems that some things, contrary to Sagan’s statement can go on forever, the statistics reveal only part of the story. The sociology of sugar consumption, to use Mintz’s term, was highly gendered, with women consuming more sugar than men. Sugar intake was also a function of income, with poorer households consuming more than wealthier ones. Thus, women in poor households consumed the most sugar of all. These lower-income women consumed more sugar because they felt obligated to fulfill their roles as caretakers of the family; therefore, they put their families’ nutritional needs ahead of their own, compensating for the caloric deficit with sugar.

The idea of women prioritizing their family’s nutrition is most visible in times of famine. According to the Women and Nutrition: Reflections from India and Pakistan U.N. report, “the apparent contradiction between women’s primary responsibility for household nutrition…and their own serious malnutrition renders a simultaneous examination of these two aspects particularly interesting.” However, instead of holding these aspects in contradiction, they should be held in tandem. Women cut calories in order to fulfill their roles as caretakers. Thus, in a “captain is the last one off the ship” mentality, women must ensure the survival of other family members before they ensure their own.

In 19th century Britain, the husband’s survival would be prioritized above all other family members, simply because the woman knew that “all depended upon the wages of her husband”(Rowntree 135, as referenced by Mintz). Thus, heartier foods (meats and whole grains) went to the husband, presumably because his manly labor required more energy. Before the introduction of sugar to Britain, this meant women had to maintain a constant calorie deficit. Sugar allowed women to meet their caloric (though not necessarily nutritional) needs.

The act of compensating for lost calories with sugar was a function of not only gender, but income as well. Whereas men earned most of the family income, women were in charge of making household purchases. Even today, women account for 85% of consumer purchases and 93% of food purchases (She-conomy). However, instead of marketing products directly to women, food companies (especially sugar companies) capitalized on the role of the female caretaker.


Graph Courtesy of Harvard Business Review

The underlying message of these female-targeted advertisements is not “purchase this for you,” but “purchase this for your family.” There are very few sugar advertisements that market sugar directly to women; instead, the advertisements treat women only as surrogates for the needs of their family.

1966 ad for sugar in Time magazine

A 1966 sugar ad in Time Magazine. Note the lower right hand corner with the “Note to Mothers.”   Photo Credit: Looka! Blog

Of course, women would end up consuming sugar themselves, primarily because of its cheapness. Since traditionally “male” foods such as meat and hearty breads cost more, sugar-based foods such as jams and jellies offered women a chance to stretch their food budget. In desperate circumstances, sugar with tea and bread provided a meal that was warm and energizing—even if it was low in essential nutrients. Thus, sugar’s role as an accompaniment to lower-priced foods meant that women would consume more of it in order to save more nutrient-dense foods for their husbands.

Many sugar companies further capitalized on the ideal of the female caretaker by creating recipe books that taught women how to incorporate sugar into recipes in order to increase their calorie density. Since sugar could more easily be incorporated into baked goods and low-protein foods (not the kinds of foods wives would serve to their husbands), women would end up consuming more sugar than men.


Sweet Talk: Recipes from the Domino Sugar Chef                                                                               Photo Credit: Ebay

It is interesting to note that the ideals behind these eating patterns are still alive and well in today’s culture; the fact that protein rich foods are marketed primarily to male consumers, while sugary foods are marketed primarily to women reflects the diets of necessity that evolved around caloric deficits.


Photo Courtesy of Advertolog


Photo Courtesy of Advertolog

Furthermore, the higher rates of sugar consumption among low-income families once again reinforce the idea that family finances play a role. Considering the highly nuanced nature of sugar consumption in the past, it is necessary to consider sugar consumption today with the same level of criticism. Sugar is not merely a food, but also a reflection of existing social structures and ideas; a crystallization of the ideals we live and eat by.

Works Cited

Belasco, Warren James., and Philip Scranton. Food Nations: Selling Taste in Consumer Societies. New York: Routledge, 2002. Print.Chatterjee, Meera, and Julian Lamber. Women and Nutrition: Reflections from India and Pakistan. UNICEF, n.d. Web. 23 Mar. 2015.

Cohen, Rick. “Sugar.” National Geographic Society, Aug. 2013. Web. 23 Mar. 2015.

“MARKETING TO WOMEN QUICK FACTS.” She-conomy. Web. 6 May 2014.

Mintz, Sidney W. Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History. New York: Penguin, 1985. Print.

Picture Sources (in order of appearance)

Canter, Sheryl. “Normal Eating® Blog.” Normal Eating Blog RSS. Web. 13 Mar. 2015.