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).
Figure 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).
Figure 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.
“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.