Dating back to the earliest known origins of chocolate—or rather its characteristic ingredient, cacao—this extraordinary substance has consistently been associated with socially intimate and aphrodisiacal properties. The particular manifestation of these aphrodisiacal properties, however, and how they have taken shape over time tells an interesting story of the power of media and advertising. Much of this early knowledge is situated around the ritual practices and mythology of the Maya civilization in the pre-Columbian period, during which cacao was heavily featured and revered in the context of fertility and marriage rites. In the Popol Vuh, the sacred book of the Quiché Maya documenting Mayan mythology, “when the gods were creating humans in their final form,” cacao was among the “foods which were to form their bodies” (Coe & Coe 39). This notion of cacao playing a role in the creation of human life is a recurring theme in surviving remnants of Mayan society, bringing to mind a clear connection with procreation and fertility. In much the same way, archeological/anthropological research has indicated the “widespread, perhaps even pan-Maya, use of chocolate in betrothal and marriage ceremonies” (Coe & Coe 60). Similar beliefs and rituals held true for Mixtec and Aztec societies, as we can see in this detail from the Codex Nuttall (Mixtec book) displayed below, or in the Aztec poem that refers to “‘flowering chocolate’ [as] a metaphor for luxuriousness and sensuality” (Coe & Coe 104).
Even more explicit, is the account of Spanish conquistador, Bernal Díaz de Castillo, upon attending a lavish Aztec banquet in which he writes about the emperor, including that “ they brought him some cups of fine gold, with a certain drink made of cacao, which they said was for success with women” (Coe & Coe 96). While this certainly speaks to the Spanish conquistadors’ beliefs and interpretations of cacao, whether there is any actual truth to this testimony is unsubstantiated. However this did not stop the notion of cacao as a sexual stimulant from spreading throughout Europe after it was first introduced in Spain. Almost a century after for instance, Dr. Henry Stubbes (1632-72), a prominent English authority on chocolate, was “convinced, as were most of his contemporaries in England and on the Continent, that chocolate was an aphrodisiac” (Coe & Coe 171).
If we fast forward to the 19th and early 20th centuries, these themes associated with chocolate seem to not only persist, but become ever-more present. This is likely the consequence of two key changes in the chocolate industry, the first being Dutch chemist Coenraad Johannes van Houten’s 1828 invention of the hydraulic press, which allowed for the production of chocolate in solid form. The second shift lies in the industrialization of food, which gave way to mass production and, by extension, lower food costs, resulting in the democratization of chocolate (Coe & Coe 234-235). Considering its history as a substance once only available to the elite and wealthy upper echelons of society, this new potential for chocolate to be available and affordable to the masses meant immense economic opportunity—cue mass marketing. Chocolate advertising in its earlier days often featured women providing chocolate to their families, as the ideal wife and mother—roles which were both, at the time, at the forefront of any socially accepted notion of female identity. Kids were also considerably featured in these ads, thus by placing chocolate at the nucleus of the family bond, we are reminded of the original role cacao played in marriage and fertility for the Maya.
In a similar vein, ads in which chocolate is the embodiment of romance soon seem to take center stage—at least for those ads targeted toward males (which speaks to a whole other dimension on the gendering of foods, but I’ll leave that for another discussion). While this notion of chocolate is clearly linked to aphrodisia, it is also convenient for business when it comes to special occasions centered around love and affection, such as Valentine’s Day and anniversaries.
As is hinted at in the ads above, this idea of chocolate as the perfect gift for a girlfriend or wife goes beyond its supposed inherent powers of attraction, to suggest that it’s so irresistible that it could win over any woman. The implication here being that simply a box of chocolates can render a woman so feeble-minded and lacking control over her desires that it removes any sexual resistance. This, again, plays into sexist stereotypes of women as mindless, emotional, pretty, sweet objects, lacking any intelligence, authority, or confidence.
While it would be nice to think this sort of messaging has subsided in recent years, the truth of the matter is that this pattern of perpetuating socially prescribed feminine ideals and stereotypes, particularly in relation to romance and desire is still common practice, only less overtly sexist. A prime example of this is for an Axe commercial in which women uncontrollably lust over a man who, upon spraying Axe Dark Temptation, turns into a walking, talking piece of chocolate. Despite being cloaked in a veil of humor, this message here is no different from that found in earlier advertising.
In a similar vein, while society has changed over time to embrace more progressive values, namely freedom of sexual expression and independence, it’s interesting to see how chocolate advertising has used this to make even more explicit the connection between chocolate, desire, and pleasure—all the while often maintaining their use of female stereotypes and ideals, which only works to delay or set back feminist efforts. That is, women are sexualized, objectified, and interlaced with sexual innuendo in such ads where there is an apparent attempt to blur the lines between chocolate and sex. Oftentimes these advertisements are targeted towards women as a way of “encouraging self indulgence for a food that provides feelings equated to sex and love” (Fahim 7).
It’s quite interesting, or perhaps more than that, it’s rather informative of the power that lies in the hands of media and marketing to perpetuate a notion with little to no basis in fact, as evidenced by numerous studies debunking any real effect of chocolate on libido or as an aphrodisiac (Shamloul 2010, Brent 2018), yet remains at the core—in some way, shape, or form, of chocolate marketing strategy.
In analyzing the way these advertisements have marketed chocolate, we can see the progress of the way society views the female role. In the earlier times, we see how the importance of women in society is closely intertwined with reproduction as well as the simple-minded housewife trope, which was quite clearly reflected in the messaging of chocolate at the time. And, subsequently, as women’s expression of sexuality in media becomes more commonplace, the importance and relevance of chocolate in society comes in large part from overt and subtle references to its purported (yet unsubstantiated) supernatural or aphrodisiacs properties. Specifically, it aims to encourage “ self indulgence for a food that provides feelings equated to sex and love.
All that being said, while this current theme of hypersexuality, desire, and indulgence is unlikely to subside any time soon (especially considering it’s persisted over thousands of years), it will be interesting to see how and if the portrayal of women in ads related to chocolate will change in this new wave of female empowerment as a marketing strategy (e.g. the new Nike and Gillette ads), which still have their issues but show an overall positive progression towards gender equality.
The “bonbon-eating housewife” narrative is so pervasive that it has become a rallying cry for stay-at-home-moms who feel underappreciated and overworked despite their reputation for laziness. In dozens of blog posts, these stay-at-home mothers decry the injustice of this stereotype, mocking the image of the bon-bon obsessed housewife in satirical articles and feminist op-eds. It seems as though this stereotype became widely accepted with the advent of the multi-camera situational comedy — one of the most widely-known models of how American family life is and should be. Since the earliest days of the multi-camera sitcom, the modern housewife has been stereotyped in the media as indulgent, lazy, and chocolate-crazy. The 1950s sitcom I Love Lucy and the 1990s sitcom Married … With Children provide perspective on the evolution of this stereotype and gendered assumptions we make about chocolate confections and the people who consume them. Through analyzing contemporary criticism of the “lazy housewives with bonbons” archetype, we can develop an understanding of how modern feminism challenges this narrative and how chocolate could be less strongly associated with femininity in the future. This association between housewifery, misogynistic narratives about women’s economic value, and the bonbon can help us to more clearly understand the cultural relationship between chocolate and femininity.
First, we must explore what a chocolate bonbon is and how it became associated with middle-class womanhood. A bonbon is typically a piece of candy — usually nougat, caramel, or other soft candies — covered in a thin coating of chocolate. While truffles are traditionally defined as balls of chocolate ganache covered in a thicker layer of chocolate, Americans often use the terms “bonbon” and “truffle” interchangeably to describe a small, bite-sized, chocolatey piece of candy. “Bonbon” can be roughly translated to “goody goody” in French, and French confectioners have been creating these sweet, delicate treats for centuries (ChocolateNoise.com). In the pre-industrial period, bonbons were handmade luxury goods, filled with expensive ingredients like candied fruit and nuts. Without mechanized equipment, confectioners had to hand-temper chocolate and cook candy with unreliable heat sources, hand-craft and coat each morsel of candy with chocolate, and sell them in small storefronts (France Today). Therefore, bonbons were a small-batch luxury good rather than a treat that any housewife could afford.
With the dawn of industrialization, many confectioners could streamline the process of producing bonbons. By the 19th century, confectioners could use mechanized equipment to produce bonbons more quickly and reliably — they no longer had to hand-sculpt each candy. The benefits of this more efficient bonbon-making process can be seen in the below video, in which a confection uses industrial cooking vessels and molds to easily produce many bonbons (Insider).
Increased sugar production in the Caribbean and other European colonial territories made sugary goods of every variety more affordable for middle- and working-class families (Mintz, 174). By the 20th century, a variety of bonbons and truffles were being produced in the United States, including the ice cream bonbon, which were largely sold in movie theaters and sports stadiums in addition to grocery stores (The Nibble). A 1988 New York Times article mentioned ice cream bonbons as one of international food conglomerate Nestle’s most popular chocolate products (Feder). Today, Americans buy over 36 million boxes of chocolate (typically filled with bonbons) for Valentine’s Day every year (Shah)! Clearly, the chocolate bonbon is one of America’s most treasured chocolate confections, but it is not clear how modern Americans came to associate bonbons with lazy stay-at-home mothers and the fraught gender politics of womanhood and work.
Perhaps the earliest example of this “lazy bonbon-eating housewife” stereotype can be found in Lucille Ball and Desi Arnazs’ semi-autobiographical 1950s sitcom I Love Lucy. In the show, Lucy is depicted as a funny, confident, and somewhat scatterbrained wife and mother. In contrast to other television mothers from the so-called “Golden Age of Television” (the late 1940s to the early 1960s), Lucy was the star of the show and frequently proved her husband wrong. Where Leave it to Beaver’s June Cleaver was demure, Lucy was vibrant and opinionated. Where The Honeymooners’ Alice Kramden was bitter, Lucy was witty and pleasant. However, despite her character’s originality and complexity, Lucy was still subject to the gender expectations of her time. Like many married woman of her time, Lucy was a housewife and stay-at-home mother, and I Love Lucy frequently focused on disagreements between breadwinner Ricky Ricardo and his supposedly-lazy wife.
This conflict came to a head in the famous I Love Lucy episode “Job Switching” ( In the episode, Ricky accuses Lucy of being a lazy spendthrift who doesn’t appreciate how hard he works to put food on the table. In turn, Lucy accuses Ricky of failing to understand how difficult it is to be a homemaker. To settle their disagreement, Lucy and Ricky agree to switch jobs — Lucy and her friend Ethel spend a day making bonbons in a chocolate factory because they are talented makers and consumers of bonbons. At the same time, Ricky and Ethel’s husband Fred spend the day as “housewives.” Both groups fail spectacularly at their new “jobs,” as seen in the clips below.
This seems to reinforce the idea that Lucy and Ethel are naturally suited to housewifery while Ricky and Fred are naturally suited to work outside the home. When Lucy and Ricky resolve their differences at the end of the episode, Ricky presents Lucy with a five pound box of chocolates to show his appreciation for her hard work (This Was Television). This joke is ironic because Lucy has just spent a terrible day working in a chocolate factory, but also because housewives stereotypically love a box of chocolate bonbons. Early 1950s sitcoms were largely not as interested in subverting or exploring gender stereotypes as they were in reinforcing these stereotypes. Because Lucy in many ways represented the “model housewife,” she was traditionally feminine, took pleasure in domestic work and motherhood, and devoted to her husband. Her stereotypically feminine love of chocolate bonbons was an integral part of this “zany domestic goddess” image.
By the 1990s, many sitcoms were significantly less interested in upholding “traditional family values.” For example, in the irreverent sitcom Roseanne, eponymous main character Roseanne was a beleaguered working mother rather than a cheerful, polished housewife, and family comedy Full House abandoned the traditional nuclear family model altogether, instead centering around three men raising a family together. Perhaps no series embodies the genre-bending 1990s sitcom better than Married… With Children. The show centers around the Bundy family: Al, a misanthropic shoe salesman; Peggy, a profoundly lazy housewife; and their often-bratty children, Kelly and Bud. In many ways, Married… With Children is a perverse satire of the traditional family sitcom a la I Love Lucy, particularly because Peggy Bundy makes little effort to be an exemplary wife, mother, and homemaker. Instead, Peggy spends every day literally sitting on her couch and eating chocolate bonbons. Bonbons have become so closely associated with the character of Peggy Bundy that multiple recipes can be found online for “Peggy Bundy’s Bonbons,” including a recipe for “Peggy Bundy’s Lazy Day Coconut Bonbons.” The recipe description characterizes Peggy as “selfish and lazy” and associates theses qualities with Peggy’s habit of “watching Oprah and eating bonbons” (Eat Out Loud).
This association between Peggy’s gender, occupation, character, and love of chocolate bonbons is an extreme example of the way in which the “housewife with bonbons” stereotype had become widespread by the late 20th century. Peggy Bundy was the embodiment of every negative stereotype about housewives in the 1990s, when the female employment rate reached its all-time high of 57.4% by the end of the decade (Statista). Her ever-present box of chocolate bonbons signaled to the audience that she was the quintessential self-indulgent housewife who did not “produce” anything. Today, many online articles about the character, published by news and tabloid outlets like Time, Newsday, and Us Magazine mention her love of bonbons in describing her laziness and self-centeredness. Clearly, bonbons have been largely recast as an affordable, indulgent treat for the lazy housewife rather than handmade luxury items at the pinnacle of haute-patiserie. Peggy Bundy embodies our contemporary anxieties around the role of women as housewives as many women seek employment outside of the home, as well as our understanding of once-expensive goods as mass-produced commodities in the industrial era.
This popular association between one of television’s most dysfunctional mothers and the chocolate bonbon has sparked an online movement among housewives. The “housewives and bonbons” stereotype has become a reference point for many discussions of the value of women’s domestic work, like an Ohio housewife’s blog Bonbons and Martinis: The Diary of a Modern Housewife (BonBons & Martinis); satirical articles on housewife-oriented media outlets like the article “Children Removed From Home Where SAHM Eats Bonbons And Watches TV All Day” on SammichesandPsychMeds.com (Sammiches and Psych Meds); and practical columns in women’s magazines, like the article “9 Things Not to Say to a Stay-At-Home-Mom” in Women’s Day. This rejection of the “housewives and bonbons” stereotype isn’t necessarily an anti-feminist paean to the virtues of motherhood. Rather, they can be understood as a feminist reclamation of the value of traditionally-female domestic labor, whether the authors of these articles would label themselves feminists or not. In the same way that I Love Lucy’s Lucy Ricardo refused to let her husband degrade her work as a housewife and Married… With Children’s Peggy Bundy embraced her box of bonbons instead of becoming a picture-perfect stay-at-home-mom, these housewives are rejecting the stereotype that they are either a Lucy Ricardo or a Peggy Bundy.
Chocolate has fallen from its archaic divinity; as industrial chocolate manufactures, such as Hershey, Ghirardelli, Cadbury, Mars, L.A. Burdick and the multitudes of other small and large confectionary manufactures have strategically subverted religion and evaded the creation of a static definition of what can be classified as health food (Off, 2008). This has been done on a global scale (Allen, 2010). Yet, for all of the exploitation of natural and human labor resources in the mad capitalist race to net exponentially larger profits, methods of chocolate consumption have changed. Chocolate has invaded every home in America and continues to spread into even the most remote regions of the world were chocolate is merely grown as a exported market good (and the farmers have never tasted the finished product) (Leissle, 2012) (Martin 2016) (Stuckey, 2012). Modern chocolate consumption has continuously increased and transformed from a relished delicacy into an addiction, one that has fostered a cultic fanaticism in its omnipresence in American culture (Martin, 2016). Chocolate addiction has been fostered by dynamic consumption practices, various health benefits, ideals of beauty, sexualization of female chocolate consumption, and the reframing of sales advertisements to secularize and/or create holidays revolving around chocolate consumption (Leissle, 2012) (Howe, 2012) (Robertson, 2009) (Martin, 2016). Addiction is an all encompassing cultural mindset which has gone further in the continued liminal state of chocolate’s meaning to contemporary American society (Benton, 2004) (Robertson, 2009). Average American households often are not aware that their chocolate consumption is irrevocably linked to the various external methods of ideological implantation of chocolate as a religious iconographic good. A brief ethnographic analysis of an average New England household, comprising of my future in-laws, engenders a radical deviation from chocolate as a coveted, addictive necessity and furthers chocolate’s ideological transformation by coming full circle to again reify chocolate’s worship as a physical manifestation of divinity.
Cacao, or Kakawa, is a substance similar to maize, corn, in its purveyance in Mesoamerican culture and religious iconography (Coe & Coe, 2013). Cacao is also shown in Mayan iconography to have been conflated with the Maize god, this has rendered archaeological interpretations of cacao as the food of the gods (Coe & Coe, 2013). Ancient associations of cacao with the food of divinity has not been lost in modern methods of advertisement (Leissle, 2012). Even analyses of chocolate advertisements can be interpreted to illustrate that chocolate and divinity are intrinsically linked. Capitalism has not so subtlety transformed and secularized religious holidays by constructing the consumption of chocolate as a ritualized activity, in which participants (consumers) will be glorified and feel euphoria through acts the giving and receiving chocolates (Martin, 2016) (Robertson, 2009). Valentine’s Day, Christmas, and even the forty days of Lent have all become associated with chocolate consumption (Coe & Coe, 2013). Lent is the most indicative of chocolate’s association with divinity, through its construction as a vice (particularly for women) which should be avoided so as to liken oneself to the divinity of Christ’s fast and then temptation by Lucifer in the desert. My fiancée’s (F) family is traditionally Irish-Catholic, like much of the greater Boston area, and has their roots firmly set in the nomenclature of religious etiquette. However, like many religious followers, they merely retain a religiously linked ethnic identity. This is not to say that they do not follow a set of religious rituals that underpin their daily lives, but the god (chocolate) to which they devote both cognitive and subconscious worship, is revealed through the family’s vocalization and ritualization of chocolate consumption. Through almost a year of total emersion into their household I have observed both passively and actively their emphasis on the importance of ritual chocolate consumption. By cooking, and baking, with the father (FD); observing F’s sister’s food habits (FS); and through consensual approval to inquire about their chocolate habits during informally structured interviews, I have captured a snapshot of the ethnographic phenomenon by which chocolate has been re-deified.
Anonymity Disclaimer: all proper names are changed to protect anonymity and personal privacy.
The demographic biological sex ratio in my fiancée’s family, including myself, is three females to two males. I entered their household in June 2015, as it was the most convenient way to save up money for our wedding and attend school. My fiancée and her sister both have severe cases of mental illnesses, and have self-proclaimed themselves vegetarians, which has inhibited their ability to consume a wide variety of food products. Prior to my debut, F’s family cooked for and brought FS any food that FS desired, while FS was unable to leave her bedroom due to severe agoraphobia. During this period and into the first several months of living with the F-in-laws, the father (FD) and mother (FM) brought FS mass quantities of sweets (per her request)- the vast majority of which contained chocolate in some form. These sweets were then incorporated into FS’s daily diet through both home cooked treats and purchased delicacies. So pervasive was chocolate into the kitchen and pantry, I could not open the refrigerator without stumbling upon 8 out of 10 items containing chocolate. Even F considered pancakes unsatisfying is they did not contain chocolate chips, accompanied by chocolate milk, and chocolate croissants, from FD’s crafting or purchased from the local French bakery. Upon my alien perspective into this near total emersion of chocolate into every aspect of nutrition, as I prefer recipe purity without the forced inclusion of chocolate, F’s mother (FM) made it quite clear that the extant to which chocolate was considered medicinal. Even long-standing family recipes, such as their grandmother’s scone recipe, that originally contained fruit changed to substitute chocolate chips; this was celebrated not only by F’s immediate family but the extended relatives as well. F, FD, and FM prefer dark chocolate; FS prefers milk chocolate. Methods of dietary consumption are among the easiest to witness, but also the amount to which F’s family purchases or crafts feminine hygiene products known to contain cocoa butter, and the amount of objects, utensils, and other paraphernalia used in the consumption, production, promotion, or distribution of chocolate.
Saying that their mass consumption of all things chocolate is a product of the historical engendering of chocolate as healthy for dietary consumption limits the extent to which FM’s concept of medicinal use resonates with the subjectivity of healthy consumption (Albritton, 2012) (Watson, Preedy, & Zibadi, 2013). FS suffered tremendous weight gain from overconsumption of carbohydrates and sugars (Albritton, 2012), most in the form of chocolate pastries and confections, but FM continued to supply these “medicinal” chocolates. In accordance with popular conceptions of the medicinal use of chocolate, it historically has been linked to a healthy state of mind and postulated to aid the treatment of mental illnesses such as “hypochondriac melancholy“(Watson, Preedy, & Zibadi, 2013). FM’s utilization of chocolate as a medical ritual to expedite the healing of FS’s mental faculties echoes: the Mesoamerican use of cacao as a restorative of the deities, the early European adoption of cacao as a similar but secularized restorative devoid of divine embodiment, and contemporary literature on chocolate’s ability to illicit pleasure responses from the brain. Contemporary concepts of chocolate’s medicinal use illuminate the chocolate industry’s persistent norms of advertisement and the increase of processed sugar consumption and sugar additives into nearly all forms of processed foodstuffs. Yet FM’s use goes beyond these analyses and parallels the sentiments that “‘chocolate is a divine, celestial drink, the sweat of the stars, the vital seed, divine nectar, the drink of the gods, panacea, and universal medicine'” (Coe & Coe, 2013: 206). While FM’s use may be a product of the historical connections of chocolate and sugar with pleasure and medicine, through the incorporation of chocolate into the entirety of the family’s diet, chocolate has been ritualized and elevated beyond the simple medicinal binary to that of a religious deity, with whom daily worship will foster inner-peace, health, and happiness in its followers. FM’s deification of chocolate retains striking parallels to the Christian description of a personal daily relationship with God, as advertised by the Bible.
F’s family’s ritual utilization of chocolate’s medicinal benefits are the product of historical polemics concerning the increase of sugar consumption, the socio-economic shift of chocolate from Mesoamerican stable to European luxury to plebian stable, and subliminally engendering advertisements (Coe & Coe, 2013). Sugar has been directly linked to diabetes, obesity, and increasing addictive behaviors, akin to drug addiction, through it’s association with pleasurable reinforcement as a reward (Benton, 2004)(Mintz, 1985). The historical shift in utilizing sugar as a preservative (Goody, 2013) directly led to the chocolate industry’s use of sugar as a stabilizing agent which also happened to increase sweetness aka. desirability, and thus “unintentionally” producing a method of engendering consumer addiction for chocolates at a early stage of industrialization (Brenner, 1999) (D’Antonio, 2006: 107) (Mintz, 1985). By keeping in context the link between sugar and addiction, the increase of sugar in chocolate opened new possibilities of advertising. Not only was chocolate now sweet, it also had been historically constructed as medicinal; it could now be produced in vast quantities previously unavailable until the industrial revolution (Brenner, 1999) (Coe & Coe, 2013). Chocolate could now be produced cheaply, containing adulterated products and sweeteners, masking the purity of the roasted cacao bean’s savory nature, and enabled new advertising strategies, informed by chocolate’s newly found socio-economic versatility (Stuckey, 2012) (Allen, 2010). These advertising campaigns have been able to pander to chocolate’s versatility in its ability to render multiple positive responses from consumers. F’s family utilization of chocolate as a restorative “cure-all” is the product of sugar’s addictive qualities, but their daily, weekly, monthly consumption of chocolate as a dietary necessity (only in the manner to which it produces a mental release of endorphins via the sugar and the Pavlovian association of chocolate with sugar) goes beyond this sweet binary to echo the mental and physical rejuvenation that religious ritual produces (Benton, 2004).
Mars’ Snickers campaign “You’re Not You When You’re Hungry, Snickers Satisfies” illustrates the multi-faceted approach that the Mars company takes in its marketing (Brenner, 1999). Mars’ advertisements embody the concept of satisfaction through one of it’s original marketing strategies to simply make a larger candy bar cost the same as the competition’s small one, through the incorporation of peanuts, caramel, and nougat (the primary ingredient of two of these is sugar)(Brenner, 1999). The campaign simultaneously engenders the concept that the Snickers’ bar will satisfy the physical manifestation of hunger and that the consumption of the candy will elevate the psyche back to normalcy (Benton, 2004). This engenders the ritualization of chocolate consumption as a divine facilitator of both inner (mental) and outer (physical hunger) peace; thus similarly paralleling the act of taking communion at Catholic Mass, this advertisement reifies a foodstuff to miraculously facilitate the divine restoration of the mortal self. F’s family reflects this theological embodiment of chocolate consumption as a canonized ritual, yet this advertisement does not alone explain why the three women are so captivated by chocolate’s allure.
Hershey’s Dove chocolate campaign (above) has a clear agenda engendering a gender stereotype of women being the primary consumers of chocolate (Robertson, 2009). F’s family represents this as the three women (F, FS, and FM) are the primary consumers of chocolate, while FD is the primary facilitator of consumption through his production of meals and snacks that prominently incorporate chocolate. This stereotype of women as chocoholics is rooted in historical contexts and has long been debunked as an “[addiction not] to chocolate but to sugar” (Robertson, 2009) (Coe & Coe, 2013: 260) (Benton, 2004). However, no matter the scientific or psychological realities of sugar addicts (Benton, 2004), this advertisement embodies chocolate’s reconstructed relationship with divinity by directly linking the consumption of Dove chocolate with the Mesoamerican concept of deification of oneself through the consumption of divine foodstuffs: particularly in their artistic conflation of the Maize god with cacao trees (Coe & Coe, 2013: 39), and through Mayan recipes mixing maize and cacao (Tokovinine, 2015). The Maya considered all objects to be of divine embodiment (Tokovinine, 2015), particularly those containing maize, which they believed was the physical embodiment of their physical selves as they were created from sacred Maize, stated in their sacred origin text the Popul Vuh, and were also divinely given the sacred crops of maize and cacao for consumption (Coe & Coe, 2013). By conflating the Maize god with a cacao pod the Mayans set a ritual precedent for the divine consumption of chocolate as enabling humanity to transcend into a divine state of epiphany. The Dove advertisement then conflates this ancient cultic practice with the more modern concept of women as the primary consumers of chocolate. Women, constructed in the advertisement as the downtrodden and oppressed gender (Bourdieu, 2001), can escape this existence through consuming chocolate and experiencing their own “moment” or existential epiphany outside of this oppression (Robertson, 2009). F’s family’s near unilaterally gender-stratified consumption of chocolate represents the religious epiphany of transcendental existence, which also reinforces the earlier discourse concerning chocolate as a parallel of Communion. Chocolate consumption now enables modern humanity to embody divinity.
Hershey furthers this gender binary of chocolate consumption through Dove’s “Only Human” advertisement campaign, which in chocolate consumption provides and escape from being female (Benton, 2004). The women are shown to be weak and “Only Human,” but Dove chocolate then provides a “real” comfort from the harsh realities of femininity (Benton, 2004). Going beyond this advertisement’s sexist engenderment, chocolate can now be associated with another of religion’s coveted abilities: the offerance of sanctuary. Chocolate makes the difficulties of human existence tolerable by offering brief sanctuaries, at the ‘moment’ of consumption, meta-physically separated from the human experience. The sanctuary that chocolate provides in these ‘moments’ parallels the sanctuary offered to praticioners of prayer, which provide a ‘moment’ with divinity meant to rejuvenate and make right the pain of a human existence. F’s family’s incorporation of chocolate into nearly all foodstuffs is now clearly representative of ritual prayers for protection from the evils and difficulties of a modern human, explicitly female, existence.
Other modes of ritual chocolate consumption are woven throughout the family’s daily lives: that of hygienic products. It has been well documented that cocoa butter, made from hydraulically pressing cacao liquor (Coe & Coe, 2013: 255), is highly effective in the treatment and prevention of various skin, and hair ailments. Placement of cocoa butter into hygienic products echoes both Baptism and the Catholic ritual of the Anointment of the Sick. Both of these religious rituals engage in a ritual purification of the body and soul. Chocolate can be religiously vindicated through the purification of the human existence, and divinely heal the physical manifestations of the human condition. Dissenters, who would disagree with this statement, are to be reminded of the Christian Science movement, whose belief in the healing power of prayer is thought to heal all physical ailments (thought to be sins’ physical manifestations), and scientific medical treatments are spurred as sinful disregard of God’s will (Norton, 1899). Thus a conflated argument to be made is that the consumption of chocolate is equal to prayer, regardless of the science behind cocoa butter’s ability to remedy topical ailments of the skin and hair. Even through dissent, contemporary chocolate consumption has reified itself as divine through F’s family’s hygienic self anointment with sacred cocoa butter.
Ritual can be identified easily through archaeological interpretation of material culture- that is to say, the artifacts by which rituals are carried out with. Chocolate manufacturing has built megalithic structures dedicated to the continual production of chocolate, such that entire communities sprung into existence to support its cultic fanatical production. Milton Hershey’s factory communes illustrate this quite succinctly (Brenner, 1999)(D’Antonio, 2006). Even the consumption of chocolate has ritual implements, such as: stylized porcline serveware, chocolatière, and the appropriated Mesoamerican molinillo (Martin, 2016). F’s family does not have all such ritual implements as modern technology’s updated versions of the chocolatière and molinillo (serving kettle and whisks), but they do have stylized ceramic ware for the sole consumption of chocolate, indicated by the imprinted logo of L.A. Burdick (a chocolatier company). F’s house has designated chocolate cabinets for the storage of preserved “instant” chocolate beverages, edible chocolates, and hygenic cocoa products; while this cabinet space is shared with similar items for drink, eating, and hygeine, the totality of chocolate’s combination with these other products merely increases the variety by which chocolate’s ritual artifacts are incorporated into daily life.
Chocolate’s transtitional state speaks to the originial liminal state by which the Mayans contextualized their existence around divinity. Chocolate has come full circle in the historical utilizations and perperonderances by which chocolate consumption has been stereotyped, redefined, and ritualized. Through the analysis of F and her family’s cultic ritual habits of chocolate, they are revealed to be the ultimate by-product of a centuries-long polemic that has created a new world religion focused on the ritualized production and consumption, based on an engendered, constructed faith that chocolate is divinely able to elevate the human condition out of the mire of oppression, through psychological and physical restoration of peace, harmony, happiness, and self-satisfaction.
Albritton, R. (2012). Between Obesity and Hunger: The Capitalist Food Industry. In Food and Culture: A Reader (3rd ed., pp. 342-352). S.l.: Routledge.
Allen, L. L. (2010). China and Chocolate: East Meets West. In Chocolate Fortunes: The Battle for the Hearts, Minds, and Wallets of China’s Consumers (pp. 7-39). New York: American Management Association.
Allen, L. L. (2010). Going the Distance: China’s 10L Chocolate Race. In Chocolate Fortunes: The Battle for the Hearts, Minds, and Wallets of China’s Consumers (pp. 201-223). New York: American Management Association.
Allen, L. L. (2010). One Country, Three Centuries. In Chocolate Fortunes: The Battle for the Hearts, Minds, and Wallets of China’s Consumers (pp. 1-6). New York: American Management Association.
Presilla, M. E. (2009). The New Taste of Chocolate: A Cultural and Natural History of Cacao with Recipes (Revised ed.). Berkeley: Ten Speed Press.
Robertson, E. (2009). Chapter One: ‘A deep physical reason’: Gender, race, and the nation in chocolate consumption. In Chocolate, women and empire: A social and cultural history (pp. 18-63). Manchester: Manchester University Press.
Robertson, E. (2009). Chapter Three: ‘There is no operation involved with cocoa that I didn’t do’: Women’s experiences of cocoa farming. In Chocolate, women and empire: A social and cultural history (pp. 91-131). Manchester: Manchester University Press.
Robertson, E. (2009). Chapter Two: ‘The Romance of the Cocoa Bean’: Imperial and colonial histories. In Chocolate, women and empire: A social and cultural history (pp. 64-90). Manchester: Manchester University Press.
I wanted to open this blog post with a witty sentence introducing my topic, why the era of sexualizing women in advertisements needs to end, and googled ‘sex sells’ for inspiration. The second hit had the following description:
Here is the cold hard truth, “Sex Sells.” Hate it or love it, sex attracts the eye more than any other type of advertisement (Ovsyannykov).
In lieu of this, here is my introduction, albeit angrier and less witty than I had originally intended:
Here is the cold hard truth, we live in a patriarchal society: women currently earn $0.79 to every dollar made by men and it will be another century before gender equality is achieved in top management positions if we continue at the current pace (Bloomberg). Hate it or love it, barriers and obstacles to gender parity are rampant in society, one of the most pervasive being the presentation of women in advertisement as sexual and trivial beings. “Sex sells,” it attracts the eye, capturing the attention of audiences, but it is not the only means of effective advertising. In fact, for products or services that have nothing to do with sex, sexual advertisements can be less effective than non-sexual advertisements (Lynn).
The chocolate industry is plagued by marketing campaigns that marginalize women, depicting them as sexual objects unable to resist the temptation of chocolate. By portraying women in this light, these advertisements are helping to maintain gender stereotypes and harming the mental health of young girls. The chocolate industry, particularly as a non-sexual industry, has a moral obligation to move away from using gendered stereotypes in advertisements.
Chocolate Advertisements: A Gendered Portrayal
In “Chocolate, Women, and Empire: A Social and Cultural History,” Emma Robertson discusses the portrayal of women in the chocolate industry versus the reality of their position. She traces chocolate from the harvest of the cacao in Africa to production in factories to consumption, and offers that advertising “failed to represent the actual economic, political, and social conditions in which Rowntree and Cadbury products, and ultimately profits, were produced” (Robertson, 19). Women were fetishized as housewives and mothers, shown as irrational narcissistic consumers, and objective as “sexual objects to maintain male morale” (Robertson, 30). Prior to WWII, they were solely depicted in the workplace during wartime although they were responsible for the production of chocolate bars in factories during peace times.
For more examples of the sexualization of women in chocolate advertisements, check out this web page from Carla Martin’s “Bittersweet Notes: Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food.”
The Sexualization of Women: Dramatic Effects
By depicting women in such a sexualized way, the chocolate industry is subliminally enforcing the antiquated stereotype that women are objects. This bolsters the current societal inequities and provides supporting evidence to stereotypes. This has a couple noteworthy implications for the workplace: it may make people less likely to inherently trust and support the rise of women in managerial positions, and also can serve as a self-fulfilling prophecy. Constantly bombarded by the idea that women are meant for the house not office, women can internalize this message and consequentially not try to rise the corporate ranks or stand up for themselves and demand an earned salary/position.
In 2007, the American Psychological Association (APA) published a study that found that the sexualization of women in the media has negative effects on young girls who are exposed to it, effecting cognitive functioning, physical and mental health, and healthy sexual development (Zurbriggen). Research finds a strong linkage between sexualization and eating disorders, low self-esteem, and depression, three of the most commonly diagnosed mental problems in girls and women (Zurbriggen). This means that the take away for young girls viewing the sexy chocolate ads described above is not the product advertised but the characteristics of the oftentimes female model.
Changing the Dialogue: Our Kit Kat Advertisement
In hopes of changing the focus of chocolate advertisements, we chose to recreate a Nestlé Kit-Kat advertisement from the “One-minute break” campaign created by Zoopa, an Italian agency in 2008. Inspired by the “One-Minute Sculptures” of Erwin Wurum, this ad campaign features various professionals in silly positions with a Kit Kat bar. Unlike the featured men who are shown in appropriate workplace clothing, the woman is shown in a revealing skirt with a high front slit even though skirt suits generally have a small slit in the back for the sole purpose of allowing for greater leg mobility when walking. While the painter is shown with brushes and a ladder, the doctor with a stethoscope, and the businessman with a laptop, the woman is shown solely with a rolling chair, an object that does not increase productivity whatsoever, particularly as standing desks become more and more popular in the workplace.
Our advertisement (below on the right; the original advertisement is below on the left) is empowering: we clothed our model in a pantsuit just like the other members of the campaign. The laptop she carries and the added tagline, “Two perfect presentations down, two to go. Have a break, you earned it”, not only stress her professionalism but also the role of Kit-Kats as an enjoyable midday energy-booster. With her head turned, the focus is on the Kit-Kat bar, not the model, with the red packaging standing out starkly against the light backdrop. These changes keep the main intended message from the original advertisement intact, “Have a break. Have a Kit Kat,” while dramatically improving the subliminal message – that women can be powerful agents in the workplace.
Moving Forward: A Moral Obligation
The portrayal of women in advertisements has not naturally followed nor kept pace with the changing social roles of women, and it is time chocolate companies, particularly the Big 5, transform their marketing practices. To encourage change, governments should follow the European Union, who in 2008 passed a resolution urging Member States to honor the ‘European Pact for Gender Equality’ by tackling marketing and advertising (Van Hellemont and Van den Bulck). Specifically, they called on Member States to ensure:
“by appropriate means that marketing and advertising guarantee respect for human dignity and integrity of the person, are neither directly nor indirectly discriminatory nor contain any incitement to hatred based on sex, racial or ethnic origin, religion or belief, disability, age or sexual orientation.”
Although enforcing this type of legislation can be difficult, it can create incentives for change. The resolution suggested Member States create public awards for companies and campaigns that create advertisements emphasizing gender equality. This incentivizes companies by providing them with the opportunity to gain free media attention across a large population. The legislation also starts a dialogue, and public pressure can be the strongest catalyst for change.
Chocolate consumption was feminized early and many advertisements initially targeted women because they were responsible for household decisions and thus had purchasing power (Robinson 20). Chocolate companies however also soon recognized the potential relationship between female sensuality and luxurious chocolate and started targeting men through feminine advertisements. Today, advertisements for chocolate have become increasingly more sexualized and we see an alarming trend with ads that promote gender stereotypes. Women in contemporary ads are often depicted as irrational or excessively aroused due to chocolate (Martin). As the analysis of the campaign below suggests, there is an urgent need for advertisements that empower female consumers.
The GoDiva Campaign
In 2004, Godiva launched an advertising campaign, GoDiva, aimed at promoting an indulgent lifestyle to women between 25 and 30 and (Cho). Godiva’s efforts to appeal to a new consumer base, however, were not particularly successful because the campaign exploited women rather than empowering them.
As seen in the advertisement above, which is part of the campaign, a scantly dressed woman is lying down, seductively gazing into the camera. She is clad in a sheer fabric that is seemingly falling off her shoulders. Her hair is tousled and she stares into the camera with desire. Interestingly, the Godiva chocolate truffle is sensually placed on the woman’s chest, bringing the viewer’s eyes to her cleavage. The woman’s right hand is placed on her chest while the left hand is sensually caressing the hair, further adding to her sultry look. All these attributes give the advertisement an erotic vibe, and could highlight that the woman has or is soon to engage in a sexually pleasurable act.
Moreover, the strange placement of the truffle seems to suggest that the truffle is not aimed for self-consumption, but rather to be consumed by someone else. Furthermore, her posture places her at the disposal of the implied chocolate consumer, reinforcing the notion that this woman is subordinate to her partner.
These ads were part of Godiva’s campaign and feature women who seductively gaze into the camera.
The tagline of Godiva’s campaign, “Every Woman is One Part (Go)Diva” is catchy, but in connection to photos of submissive women, it fails to empower prospective female consumers. The other ads in the campaign similarly feature white women with seductive styling and submissive body postures. Moreover, the models are portrayed in dimly lit rooms that feature chandeliers and ornamented wallpapers. These factors imply that Godiva is primarily for upscale white consumers, thus highlighting issues related to race and class.
Lastly, it seems problematic that Godiva chooses to highlight the word diva in the campaign. Although Merriam Webster’s definition of the word diva suggest that it is “a usually glamorous and successful female performer or personality,” the word also carries a negative connotation and is often used to describe someone who is arrogant and high maintenance. The interaction between the campaign’s tagline and photos submissive women thus seem particularly problematic.
An Alternative Ad
In response to Godiva’s campaign, I am proposing a campaign that effectively empowers women. As highlighted, a major issue in Godiva’s campaign, and chocolate advertisements in general, is that the women are portrayed as submissive tools intended to satisfy someone else’s sexual desire. My campaign addresses issues of female exploitation and seeks to empower prospective female consumers.
In the proposed ad, a young woman is portrayed in an office setting. She is exiting a meeting room with a confident smile on her face. In stark contrast to Godiva’s Diva-campaign she is not staring into the camera, and is thus not consumed by the male gaze. The woman in the proposed ad has a lot of agency, and seeks a moment of “sweet escape” after a successful day at work. In contrast to the original ad, she is portrayed as strong and independent, and thus the chocolate is intended for self-consumption. The new ad highlights that the chocolate can be associated with luxury and gratification, without blunt references to sex. Moreover, the woman in the ad is appropriately dressed and shows very little skin, to refrain from exploiting the female body.
Lastly, one major issue with Godiva’s campaign is that it failed to promote diversity, and my campaign will cast a diverse group of women of different ethnicities. Moreover, the proposed campaign aims to promote a healthy body ideal, similar to the woman in the proposed ad above.
I truly believe that the proposed campaign will appeal to female consumers who need a break after a busy day at work. The campaign is also likely empower women, and will be extended to include females in other work settings, thus reaching a broader audience. The working woman is relatable, and the campaign successfully pushes back on gender stereotypes and female sexualization in chocolate advertisements.
Martin, Carla D. “Race, ethnicity, gender, and class in chocolate advertisements”.” Harvard University. Cambridge, MA. 30 March. 2016. Lecture.
Robertson, Emma. Chocolate, Women and Empire: A Social and Cultural History. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2009. Print.
Godiva Appeals to Women with “Diva” Campaign. Digital Image. http://media260chocolate.qwriting.qc.cuny.edu/2014/03/03/godiva-appeals-to-women-with-diva-campaign/. Web. 9 March. 2016
The overt sexualization of women is pervasive in current chocolate advertising. This is likely an artifact of the portrayal of chocolate as sinful, which has been common in western culture since its introduction to the European market. Chocolate advertising is, and has been for a long time, problematic in many ways, but the sexism and clear sexual innuendo in its advertising seems both the most frequent abuse as well as the most curious. Chocolate is mostly an impulse purchase in the U.S. and Europe, and is most often purchased by women, so chocolate advertising, understandably, targets women (Martin, Lecture 2016). At the same time, however, the portrayal of women in chocolate ads is often incredibly sexist, and sexualizes them in a way that is expected of ads targeting a mostly male audience.
I have selected three chocolate advertisements that use this form of marketing. The first is a frame from an advertisement for a Cadbury flake bar, in which the viewer intrudes on a young woman eating a Cadbury chocolate flake bar in her bathtub, and presumably having an orgasm. Really, the imagery is so apparent that we don’t actually have to presume that much, if at all. It is understandable that a company would want to advertise a product to women as capable of giving them orgasms, at least on the level of ‘sex sells,’ yet ads like this portray the women as obsessive and sex-crazed, at best, and objects akin to a piece of chocolate at worst. Emma Roberts points out in her book that there is a clear link in advertising between women and sex, and that such advertisements “perpetuate western sexist and racist ideologies under a veneer of pleasurable consumption” (Robertson 2009), yet this is often used to sell products to men. In fact, advertisement research on the topic has shown that women in general respond more negatively to sexual advertisements than men (Dahl, Sengupta, & Vohs 2008). Why would ads for women cross the line from selling sex to women, to selling sex to men and falling into sexist stereotypes?
Below are two more ads that fall into the category of sexualization in a way that targets women and is at the same time offensive to them. In the advertisement of Filthy chocolate, the sinfulness and obsessiveness that often ties women and chocolate together is explicitly written in the text of the advertisement. Further, we can see the woman, clothed in chocolate, in a state of what seems to be intense pleasure, but with her body contorted in an extremely unrealistic way, and which portrays sexuality but not ‘properness.’ That is, it buys into a typical representation of women for male audiences, that aims to portray them as sexual objects, but with some degree of resistance to that sexuality, because are not intended to embrace their sexuality as openly as men can. In the advertisement by dove, it is hard to discern any traceable attempt to appeal to women, other than the fact that a woman is eating the chocolate. The woman holds her mouth and consumes the chocolate in an incredibly sexual way, but is disembodied, without any character, and shows no sign of enjoyment of the action, which the other ads, though problematic, at least are able to achieve. This ad strikes me as completely nonsensical, as it only sexualizes the woman but fails to deliver any convincing evidence that the chocolate will maker her happy.
In our advertisements, my group partner and I decided recreated these advertisements with men eating chocolate in the absurd way that women are portrayed as eating chocolate in many of these ads. It is intended to point out the completely flawed thinking that goes into ads that target women at the same time as stereotyping and objectifying them. First, and most apparently, nobody actually eats chocolate the way that these women are portrayed as eating chocolate. It is actually accepted in the media as not being absurd because people are used to this overt sexualization of women, but our ad points out how absurd it is by showing people very different from incredibly attractive, likely airbrushed, women eating chocolate in this manner. These ads include an attempt to portray the contorted, sexual-yet-shy body language of the ‘Filthy’ chocolate ad, to the apparent orgasm that eating chocolate can give a person. In the context of young men doing these things instead of young women, they seem ridiculous.
“As Britain’s Sexiest Chocolate Ad Hits 40 … It’s Joss – Only the Sultriest, Funkiest Flake Girl.” Mail Online. Associated Newspapers, n.d. Web. 06 Apr. 2016.
Bui, Quang. Filthy Chocolate Ad Campaign. Digital image. 22 May 2011. Web.
Dahl, D., Sengupta, J., & Vohs, K. (2008). Sex In Advertising: Gender Differences And the Role of Relationship Commitment. Journal of Consumer Research, 215-231.
Mauss, Marcel, and E. E. Evans-Pritchard. The Gift: Forms and Functions of Exchange in Archaic Societies. New York: Norton, 1967. Print.
Martin, Carla D. “Lecture 9: Race, Ethnicity, Gender, and Class in Chocolate Advertisements.” Aframer 119x. CGIS, Cambridge. 30 Mar. 2016. Lecture.
Robertson, Emma. Chocolate, Women and Empire: A Social and Cultural History. 2010. 1-131. Print.
Historically, chocolate has been considered an aphrodisiac, associated with love and sex, and perceived in highly gendered ways, with evidence of this in the Aztec culture and Victorian Era, for example (Martin). Modern advertising narratives, such as the Cadbury Flake ad featuring a woman in a bath, continue these traditional themes associated with chocolate by selling the candy with highly sexualized, erotic images and messages. Chocolate advertisers frequently depict the experience of consuming chocolate as “identical to the pleasure of sex or redeemable for the pleasure of sex” (Anderson). I will examine the Dove ad for their Cranberry Almond Dark Chocolate bar, pictured to the right, and consider how the image, and other chocolate ads, create a harmful narrative around chocolate and female sexuality. Too often, they promote a notion of women as weak objects, who, once exposed to the influence of chocolate, which serves as an alternative to men, are completely powerless.
The Dove ad is not true to the actual product: the cranberry almond bar is not a substitute for sex and it will not incapacitate the woman by providing her with irresistible physical satisfaction. By obscuring the reality of the product and depicting women as easily, irrationally entranced by chocolate, and by extension, as helpless, I contend that ads like this Dove ad are promoting an injurious characterization of women as objects without agency, and without interests beyond satisfying their own pleasure. It is important to consider the effects of these messages on female self-perception, and work to create ads that instead more accurately celebrate chocolate as a tasty sweet, rather than a “sexual surrogate” (Kawash), and women as real people with depth and personality.
Samira Kawash, author of Candy: A Century of Panic and Pleasure, notes the “overt sexuality” of the Dove ad, which she describes as featuring a “lithe woman caressed by brown silk, writhing in pleasure” (Kawash). Upon first glance, the viewer notices a woman wrapped up in a silky brown material with an expression of pure bliss. Her eyes are closed, her features are soft, and her expression is one of peaceful ecstasy. She is certainly in rapture, but her face has been molded in a way so as to not create a dramatic appearance, so she does not appear too powerful. The ad focuses on the comprehensive sum of the different elements of the image: the woman’s euphoric expression, the silky folds of the fabric, the soft lighting, and the suggestive overlaying words.
Noticeably, the whole advertisement is tinted brown and it is difficult to discern sharp boundaries between the woman’s face, her hair, and the silky cloth that is wrapped around her. Dove has carefully crafted and edited the image so as to make the woman in bed resemble creamy chocolate in hue and texture. It is if chocolate is literally taking over the woman because of its overpowering effect on her. She is a remarkably flat figure and resembles a painted face, rather than an individual with a personality, sense of self, and means of influence.
The words at the bottom of the advertisement further reinforce the overt sexual connotations of the image and characterize the woman as easily seduced and without agency: “Now it can last longer than you can resist. Unwrap. Indulge. Repeat.”
My re-designed ad celebrates women as strong, dynamic beings, and markets Dove chocolate for what it is — a sweet. The new ad focuses on the women’s actions, namely, their decision to go for a bike ride together, rather than their sexual satisfaction. It shows that women are strong and in control; they enjoy adventures, represented through biking, and sweets, presumably chocolate, and will not be manipulated or lulled into an euphoric slumber by a mere candy. Furthermore, I incorporated three women into the advertisement to suggest the social nature of chocolate as a food to be shared among friends, rather than an erotic object or substitute for sex that is enjoyed alone in one’s bed, as the initial advertisement suggests with the shrouded woman. The new slogan, “Now life can be full of adventures and sweets,” promotes chocolate as a delicious addition to an active life, rather than an instrument to prod female sexuality.
Considering that most chocolate, and certainly the “My Dove, My Moment” ad, is targeted at women, the implicit messages of female degradation have a negative effect on self-perception. The re-designed ad takes the opportunity to reach so many female consumers to convey a positive, uplifting message by featuring women who are engaged with the world around them and with one another. Dove chocolate will provide women with “sweet” support in their active lives.
Anderson, L.V. “Cuckoo for Chocolate.” Slate Magazine. Slate.com, 13 Feb 2012. Web.
Chocolate and advertisements often go hand in hand. Since its discovery by the Europeans, the popularity of chocolate rose in the 1600s, and it do so through the use of advertisement. Early advertisements began as word of mouth, but over the years it has progressed into what we now know as modern Ads: videos, photos, drawings. Along with progression, came a slew of negative stereotypes that were consistently portrayed for the sake of marketing certain goods. Of the many representations shown through images and videos, the two that will be discussed, is the use of race and gender in Ads. Time and time again, the respect for the history of chocolate and people has been disregarded for the sake of promoting a product.
Chocolate is often used as a synonym for darker skin. This is portrayed consistently in the media whether it is though words or imagery. In this Thai Ad, a new charcoal donut is being advertised. A bite is take out of the donut, which presumably turns the woman “black”. This literal representation is seen in the woman painted in black—to depict “charcoal”, while her pink lips stand out against her face. Dunkin Donuts has received much criticism over the lack of racial sensitivity in the Ad. The chocolate donut could have been marketed in other ways without resorting to race. Tactics such as this undermines the history and struggle of a group of our population in order to sell products.
As seen in both ads, females are often depicted as the representation for chocolates and sweets. Females are stereotyped into roles of femininity and sexuality in order to represent the object at hand. It often becomes hard to tell whether it’s the product or sex that is being sold, as the two are very entwined. As the image below shows, Cadbury is being compared to a female, and not just any female, but the supermodel Naomi Campbell. Her name brings to mind, images of being a diva, sassy, tall, slender, and beautiful. Focus is paid to the physical attributes that are deemed as the ideal. These physical features are used to convey confidence, sassiness, allure and sexuality. This theme is repeated in countless advertisements where females are seen laying on a bed, or in various sexual poses. It’s as if, any female that doesn’t fit the mold of the stereotypical sexual woman, chocolate just wouldn’t taste as good.
More focus need to be paid on making advertisements inclusive. Breaking free of stereotypes will allow the advertised message to reach a greater array of audiences who do not fit gender and racial molds. The focus should always be on the product more so than the people. Advertisements should aim to remove any ambiguity as to what is being sold and any stereotypes that are being subliminally reinforced. The original ad depicts an image of chocolate of various color and shapes, with the message of celebrating all colors and shapes. The message is in direct response to the images above, where the mainstream links chocolate exclusively to dark skinned and African people. This ad tries to break free of socially constructed images of the “ideal women”—tall and skinny—which do not always depict the everyday norm. Above all, the advertisement focuses solely on the product, leaving no ambiguity as to what is being sold and the audience that is being targeted—everyone.
Although this original Ad aims to deconstruct stereotypes, its focus may be too narrow. The slogan, “..in every shade and size”, responds only to the racial and body image portrayal of females. Male audiences, along with children and elder people may be marginalized. This shows how easy it is to leave out sections of the consumer population, wether it is intentional or not. It also shows how important it is to be inclusive of all people. Advertisements should direct their efforts in embracing and celebrating differences, not using it to reinforce centuries old ideal. Over time, Ads should completely move away from depicting chocolate to race and gender all together. The sole reason for candy should be for the sake of taste and satisfaction.
Logan, Ruth. “Dunkin’ Donuts Apologizes For ‘Racist’ Blackface Ad.” News One Dunkin Donuts Apologizes For Racist BlackfaceAd Comments. NEWSONE, Sept. 2013. Web. 08 Apr. 2016.
Wade, Lisa. “On Cadbury, Naomi Campbell, and Colorblindness – Sociological Images.” Sociological Images On Cadbury Naomi Campbell and Colorblindness Comments. The Society Pages, June 2011. Web. 08 Apr. 2016.
Founded in 1824, Cadbury is no stranger to controversy and has created a legacy of producing stereotypical, racially insensitive advertisements. A few examples are the infamous Drumming Gorilla (2007); and the Mastication for the Nation (2009). Although these advertisements negatively impacted and offended consumers of color in a hurtful way, the Cadbury brand continued to ignore and exploit the offenses for financial gain. In this instance, Cadbury compared their Dairy Milk Bliss Bar to Naomi Campbell–an iconic supermodel of European nationality and Black ethnicity. Campbell, nationally known, recognized and worshipped for her striking features and beauty, signature runway walk, and flawless brown skin; also became known for having violent physical outbursts and tantrums. It is the latter of Campbell’s reputation that Cadbury used to both explain and defend the source of inspiration for the Bliss Bar advertisement. In my critical analysis, I consider Cadbury’s history of racially inappropriate ads; lack of sensitivity to people of color; and refusal to address and eliminate overarching racist themes in their advertisements. Finally, I create an alternative advertisement, which introduces the three new flavours of the Dairy Milk Bliss Bar, inviting diversity through inclusion.
In 2011, Cadbury ran a campaign to introduce its Dairy Milk Bliss Bar in three new flavors (Chocolate Truffle, Toffee Truffle & Hazelnut Truffle). The image is simple: the Dairy Milk Bliss Bar mounted atop a montage of diamonds. But it is the tagline that sucks the life from its debut launch: “Move over Naomi, there’s a new diva in town.” The lifeless ad drew immediate criticism and was hailed as racist among consumers, civil rights leaders/organizations, and most importantly–Campbell herself. Not only was Campbell “shocked and hurt to see her name next to the chocolate bar,” (Daily Reporter, 2011) but felt that being likened to a chocolate bar was in “poor taste on [many] levels” (TheGuardian). Campbell shamed the ad as an “insult to black women” (TheGuardian). Cadbury, who initially defended the ad, citing its creative inspiration with a “tongue-in-cheek play on her reputation for diva-style tantrums,” (TheGuardian) denied that Campbell’s skin color and ethnicity played any factor. Nevertheless, their explanation did not appease the public or civil rights organizations who called for an apology and boycott of Cadbury, which forced Cadbury (who initially refused) to issue an apology to Campbell, her family, and consumers–later pulling the ad.
As the old saying goes: ‘this ain’t their first rodeo!’ That said, I find Cadbury’s apology to be disingenuous. Even if their claim to “poke fun” at Campbell’s “diva” tantrums is true, the word diva itself is a sexist, misogynistic term, used to describe a woman who is demanding, hard to work with, temperamental and superior. Furthermore, was Campbell the only celebrity making headlines for bad behavior? According to FOX News, and US Weekly Magazine, the majority of 2010 and 2011’s biggest celebrity meltdowns were by white men. So why did Cadbury choose to target Campbell specifically? Furthermore, why was her behavior significant enough to warrant a national advertising campaign as opposed to other celebrities? Lastly, how did the connotation of the tagline connect with other sociohistorical themes and stereotypes?
Historically and in present day society, dark colored chocolate is associated with wickedness and impurity; whereas white chocolate is associated with goodness and purity. This is a historical perception that is deified in racism. In the Bliss Bar ad, the chocolate bar is surrounded by white diamonds and a bright-colored background. I believe the imagery was created to distract from the dark, wicked perception of chocolate in contrast with what is acceptable and desirable. In another equally racist and misogynistic chocolate advertisement which appeared in the British editions of women’s global magazines: African women with dark chocolate skin were pictured with a tagline themed “women with attitude,” (Leissle, p. 124) despite the fact that there was no “attitude” upon their countenance. In a world dominated by white men, women have historically been objectified to sell products. However, women of color are usually typecast with themes of negativity or aggression, while white women are cast as well-mannered, welcoming and desirable.
As women of color, there is also a deeper, complex issue that factors into racism: colorism. In colorism, people of color with lighter skin are perceived as more favorable and desirable; where people of darker skin are perceived as less favorable, undesirable and aggressive. These false stereotypes carry deep ancestral history. Although Campbell’s public persona may have contributed to the Bliss Bar ad, the narrative was intended to objectify her skin color and ethnicity in a way that was unfavorable and undesirable.
In my advertisement, I create an invitation for the world to be introduced to the Bliss Bars new flavours. I intentionally excluded all references to race, sex and ethnicity for the purposes of objectifying our common love and desire for chocolate. By choosing to focus on our commonalities and shared love for chocolate, we all feel included. My wish for Cadbury is that they eliminate the racial undertones and narratives of their advertisements. Thereby, choosing to task themselves in becoming aware and sensitized to why people of color feel exploited, humiliated and dehumanized by their advertisements. Inasmuch, their most racially offensive ads have been created by an agency, Fallon, who clearly lacks sensitivity to racist connotations, imagery and historical context. Maybe therein lies an arrogant resistance to humility and responsibility. Perhaps Cadbury should allow Campbell to stay… and invite Fallon to ‘move over.’ Permanently.
In many forms of advertising, women are frequently portrayed in erotic, stereotypical ways to sell products. One scholar argues that commercials from many industries, such as skin care, clothing, and tobacco, among others, show women “as things or mere sex objects” and reinforce images of both physical and emotional “weakness” in women (Cohan 323-327). These spots use women in revealing clothing, often with sexual facial expressions and body positions, to sell their goods by capitalizing on viewers’ desires. While some of these marketing campaigns have been attacked as unethical (Zhou and Chen 492), they remain ubiquitous in the promotion of chocolate, leaving viewers increasingly desensitized to their existence. For our advertisement, Nancy Liu, Alison Stein, and I decided to satirize the Axe Chocolate Body Spray campaign (AXEvip). We replaced chocolate with a food less frequently depicted as sexual: pasta. By mimicking the erotic chocolate images, our ad illustrates how abnormal and problematic these concepts should appear for all types of food.
Among sexualized commercials, chocolate campaigns are often some of the most egregious, depicting women losing control of their emotions and bodies when faced with the sweet. As shown by Professor Martin, these ads reinforce patriarchal stereotypes by having men provide chocolate for the women in their lives, show women going through mood swings between rage and ecstasy while eating chocolate, and portray women in sexual, revealing, almost orgasmic positions after consuming the food (Martin).
One advertisement for M&Ms called “Devour” depicts one woman warning an M&M that Kristin “can’t control herself around chocolate” and will “devour” the human-like M&Ms. Later, Red the M&M leaves the party with Kristin, who is dragging Red forcefully away (Big Game Ads). Although seemingly light-hearted, this advertisement portrays Kristin losing her mind, willing to eat someone who, in this commercial’s universe, appears to be an accepted member of society because of her overwhelming desire for chocolate. These types of television spots reinforce the stereotype that women are irrational, particularly when dealing with chocolate.
In the troubling Axe Dark Temptation Body Spray campaign, women in the ad chase after a man who, in women’s eyes at least, has become a human piece of chocolate after using the deodorant. The women lose their minds, licking him in the movie theatre, eating the chocolate on his butt while on the bus, crowding gym windows just to get a sight of him, and ripping off his arm while on the street (AXEvip). These depictions of women losing control in response to the mere scent of the chocolate spray reinforce stereotypes that women are mentally weak. Thus, when near chocolate, they can neither control themselves, nor can they differentiate between chocolate consumption and sexual desires. The advertisement also treats women as sex objects governed by their carnal desires. No matter what they happen to be doing when the man appears, they are happy to dismiss their obligations to follow him.
By depicting women in this sexualized way, the commercial exploits the desires of its male customer base, who largely wish to attract women. Were it not for the stereotypes associated with chocolate, such as the response of overpowering desire and sexuality in women, the spray would never have been made. Thus, the deodorant exploits and reinforces the same concerning depictions discussed above, which are crucial for its existence.
The spot also displays multiple other upsetting tropes. As is common in advertisements about love, heterosexuality dominates the commercial with only male-female attraction. The spot also perpetuates problematic images of race. When the unenthused white man becomes a human chocolate, he immediately gains wide eyes and an exaggerated smile with pearly white teeth common in stereotypical depictions of black people. His gift of a chocolate hand to the woman in the hospital is also troubling given the history of this confection, which is related to the hands of African slaves cut off as punishment by Belgians on Congolese rubber plantations (Martin). Although these images add to the problematic nature of the commercial, we decided to focus on the gender aspects discussed above.
In our ad, we have replaced the chocolate spray with a “pasta” version. The woman in the flier has lost control over herself while eating the food, getting the sauce all over her clothes and face. Like the depictions of chocolate, the woman has been overpowered by her desire to consume the pasta. The vaguely phallic nature of the spaghetti noodle in her mouth adds to the carnal nature of the image. We then decided to mock the slogans used in the Axe ads with our own pasta slogan, “Bring out the carb-lover in her.” Much like the chocolate Axe commercial, we have sought to exploit the male desire to attract women by referencing the theoretical idea that the scent of pasta is also overwhelming. Because of the abnormality of this depiction, the sexualized image of pasta is uncomfortable and almost comedic. Unlike chocolate, sexualized pasta images are not so common that they go unnoticed by society. Thus, it becomes easier to see the problematic nature of the erotic and ditzy depiction of this woman and to then apply these ideas to the disappointing chocolate ads.
By satirizing the chocolate commercial, our odd pasta image makes the troubling nature of chocolate marketing clear and seeks to remove this “societal blindspot” (Martin). In much of advertising over the past three decades, companies have sought to complicate stereotypical depictions of women, which has resulted in slow improvements around the world (Sheehan 91-6). As discussed by Professor Martin, however, the discourse surrounding chocolate lags behind that of other areas because we are desensitized (Martin). Thus, we need to continue to expose these worrying advertisements that are much too prevalent in the chocolate industry.
New AXE Dark Temptation Commercial (US). 2008. Film.
Big Game Ads. M&M Brown – Super Bowl Commercial | M&M Red – Big Game Commercial | Devour. 2014. Film.
Cohan, John Alan. “Towards a New Paradigm in the Ethics of Women’s Advertising.” Journal of Business Ethics4 (2001): 323–337. Print.
Martin, Carla. “Race, Ethnicity, Gender, and Class in Chocolate Advertisements.” AAAS-119X. Harvard University Cambridge, MA. 2016. Lecture.
Sheehan, Kim Bartel. Controversies in Contemporary Advertising. SAGE Publications, 2013. books-google-com.ezp-prod1.hul.harvard.edu. Web. 9 Apr. 2016.
Zhou, Nan, and Mervin Y. T. Chen. “A Content Analysis of Men and Women in Canadian Consumer Magazine Advertising: Today’s Portrayal, Yesterday’s Image?” Journal of Business Ethics5 (1997): 485–495. Print.