Tag Archives: motherhood

Moms and Chocolate Milk: A Century-Long Storyline

Outside of models seductively pressing squares of milk chocolate to lips with a playful look and women with dark satiny fabrics outlining their curves in the name of chocolate bars, there is another stereotype being framed for women by chocolate company advertisements that is less loud and glamorous than the sexualization in chocolate advertising, but still problematic. For more than a century, and still in the present, chocolate companies have advertised their products to mothers as nutritional food products to feed children. The role of chocolate buying as a part of motherhood has historically been portrayed to consumers through advertising once as a nutritional obligation for mothers who want to nurture their families well, and later on as a way to appease children and husbands and be the best kind of mother. These messages, while less obvious today, can still be picked up on from commercials, especially for chocolate milk, and while some advertising has moved on to include women in roles outside of motherhood, chocolate milk industries still seems to fetishize the housewife role (Martin, Lecture 7, Slide 25).

The identity of women as mothers and housewives in chocolate advertisements became this controversial way after chocolate became less of a luxury and more commonplace through improved packaging, preparing, and distributing (Martin, Lecture 7, Slide 6). Chocolate was no longer for male-dominated chocolate houses, and instead being pushed to consumers as an energy-renewing and restorative snack and household necessity (Martin, Lecture 7, Slide 25). Industrialization of chocolate manufacturing made it more available to families for buying, and it became apparent to chocolate companies that they should advertise to the mothers of children buying food for their young ones. Shortly after, in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, teaching women domestic skills became extremely popular, as evidenced by cookbooks by Maria Parloa and Fannie Farmer (Martin, Brownies). As a result, chocolate companies shifted to advertising their products to women, and encouraging them to feed their children and husbands chocolate as a healthful food (Robertson, 20).

Those creating these advertisements saw housewives as their target customers and in their advertising, showed these women as the family members in charge of the domestic jobs of food shopping and feeding children, and this influences the way mothers are portrayed in a hugely domestic role in chocolate milk advertising today. One example is the TruMoo commercial below.

In this advertisement from TruMoo, the woman considering the product is cast in a specific role that is not very different from the target audience of chocolate advertising in the past century.

This shows that even today, mothers are a target audience for many chocolate drink advertisements. These commercials still appeal to the concerned emotions mothers have for the health of their families. Boasting fortifying vitamins and energetic properties, chocolate milk commercials tell moms that they should feed their children chocolate milk if they have their health in mind. In these advertisements, young ones look to moms with wide, approving, grins while swirling Hershey’s and Nesquik. The companies are marketing children’s approval alongside the healthful benefits of the products vitamins and minerals. The role women play in grocery stores, pushing carts, and making important decisions about brands, health, and prices is a historic and sexist storyline women which chocolate companies have chosen to use.  As ultimate grocery decision-maker, women in these commercials do not have jobs or interests or lives outside of the light we see them in, a strict domestic, housewife sort of role. Ultimately, the TruMoo commercial mother listens to “the voice of reason” angelic advice and decides on TruMoo. Her son’s satisfaction suggests to women (and their children) that buying TruMoo makes women nurturing and fun moms.

An alternative I’d like to see? Dads shopping. Moms and dads shopping together. Two moms shopping together. Grandpas and grandmas and uncles and aunts shopping. I’ve included an example of a response to all of the shopping moms are doing in chocolate milk advertisements. In it, parents visit the grocery store together alongside their child, and both have a say in the approval and denial of supermarket products.


Besides the unbridled obsession with mothers that chocolate milk advertisements seem to have, what this response advertisement also addresses is the manipulative way the commercials portray chocolate milk as a wholesome treat for growing kids. Today, advertisements like the TruMoo one included in this post boast vitamins, minerals, and other dietary bonuses. Like Rowntree’s adverts from almost a century ago, TruMoo and other chocolate milk advertisers appeal to moms’ concern for the health and nutrition of her family. It is an effective marketing ploy, but duplicitous, indeed: a glass of chocolate milk can have more sugar than a can of soda (Martin, Lecture 9, Slide 23).

It also is an old technique of chocolate companies. Rowntree cocoa sold itself to mothers as “more bone and muscle-building than ordinary cocoa” (Robertson, 21). The company aimed to sell to mothers in this manipulative way, deciding that women were the “purchasing agent” they had to win over by tapping into their desires to nurture their families and husbands (Robertson, 20). This sounds cringy and sexist, but what TruMoo and other chocolate milk sellers are campaigning with the “health benefits” in their own products, combined with the supermarket-mom scene is not far at all from Rowntree’s manipulative principles. My advertisement counteracts this message by selling the chocolate as a fun and special occasion treat, which is still enjoyable, instead of as a nutritional form of sustenance, which sugary chocolate cannot be when eaten in access.

One way these gendered advertisements are being changed, but not necessarily for the good, is through Hershey’s recent advertisement which includes a father and his daughter enjoying chocolate together. While this advertisement is a shift from chocolate marketing normally aimed toward women and children, and instead toward men (specifically dads!) and their kids, it still does so in a way that shows dad, who is absorbed in Skype conference calls and too busy to leave work to spend time with his eager daugher, as the breadwinner. The man in this commercial never leaves his house to grocery shop for Hershey’s, and instead his daughter purchases chocolate for the two to share. While this advertisement refrains from the traditional chocolate advertisement portrayal of women as the housewives and domestic gurus, its storyline with a father still casts the man as the working parent. He is completely uninvolved in the nutritional and health concerns for his daughter in his role as her parent, like a mother in so many chocolate commercials might.

In an age where the awareness of these advertising messages and the roles in which women are portrayed are scrutinized and considered more than in Rowntree’s advertising days, it is still a shame to think of the sexist ideologies in chocolate commercials like TruMoo’s and Hershey’s. And while the examples of women fetishized in housewife roles and men as breadwinners is less conspicuous, it is absolutely prevalent and problematic.


Works Cited:

Martin, Carla. Lecture 9.

Martin, Carla. Lecture 7.

Martin, Carla. 2016. “Brownies: The History of A Classic American Dessert.” US History Scene. http://ushistoryscene.com/article/brownies/. Accessed 4 April 2016

Robertson, Emma. Chocolate, Women and Empire: A Social and Cultural History. 2010. 1-131. Print.

Don’t Miss the Moment: Swiss Miss, and Chocolate Advertised as a Mother-Child Bonding Tool

The image is far from unfamiliar to a white, middle-class kid who’s grown up in the northeast: it’s a frigid, snowy day outside, so maybe after school, maybe after an hour or so of outdoor play, you shake off your hat and set down your boots and go drink a cup of hot chocolate with whatever parent or guardian helped you get inside. Personally, it was always an occasion steeped in sensory relief and absent-mindedness. The drink’s warmth warded off the residual cold and calmed me down, and the sugary chocolate flavor was, of course, delicious to the simple palate of a child. The sharing of hot chocolate with my parent never struck me as any more intimate or meaningful than the time we had spent together out in the cold, or the night before playing a game, or that morning at breakfast. However, Swiss Miss, a ConAgra Foods company, seems to be trying to convince mothers otherwise (“Swiss Miss”). Through a close dissection of a series of advertisements by Swiss Miss and similar companies, this essay will explore the ways in which Swiss Miss’s contemporary promotional campaign uses chocolate to prey on mother-child anxieties, especially the need to collect meaningful memories and connections with children while they’re young and still under the parental wing.

To begin, upon purchasing a box of Swiss Miss hot chocolate earlier this year (as a potential alternative to the coffees and teas I have also stored up on my shelf), I noticed that each packet was decorated with the following image:

CreateTheMoment(Photograph taken by me)

The label reads, “Create the Moment” in soft, mature, loving cursive, positioned below a photograph of a young girl, clearly between the ages of 5 and 10, looking affectionately up at (who we assume) is her mother, as they both hold mugs of (what we can assume is) Swiss Miss hot chocolate. Both of them appear to be white and middle class. At first I didn’t think much of this image — in fact, I was reminded of the scene from my childhood described in the opening paragraph. But the words “Create the Moment” stuck with me. The advertised “moment” is like the one in the picture — the child looks up to the mother and appreciates her, returning the love that her mother is generally responsible for giving and feeling. Still, the unnerving nature of this campaign lies in “create”. Judging by both the font and the the assumption that mothers will be preparing hot chocolate for their children and not the other way around, the white, young, middle-class mother is clearly the one being urged to “create” here, as if it’s her responsibility to set up the right atmosphere to coax love and appreciation from her daughter. Or, rather, that the mother depicted is “creating the moment”, serving as an example for what all white, middle-class mothers should strive to do with their prepubescent children.

The “Create the Moment” promotion is clearly an example of positive advertising — while the language is set in the imperative, the images are of positive, rather than negative, consequences of using this product. Curiously, results from a 1970 study on anxiety and advertising suggest that positive advertisements have a stronger effect on high-anxiety individuals (which mothers, arguably, could be considered to be) than negative advertisements (Wheatley). Coutant and colleagues, in a 2011 study, observed five main anxieties placed on mothers in various parts of the food industry: “anxieties linked to the responsibility for providing healthy food to support a child’s physical growth; anxieties associated with the responsibility for providing appropriate nutrients to foster a child’s intellectual development; anxieties linked to the social exclusion of a child from his/her peer group; anxieties raised due to repeated conflicts about food intake that may threaten family bonding relationships and mothers’ anxiety for not being present enough for the child due to their own busy schedules” (Coutant). While early chocolate advertising related to children focused on the first few anxieties listed, such as in the Cadbury one below,
cadburychildren(Image source: http://www.antiquemapsandprints.com/scans/scans142.htm)

it’s clear that Swiss Miss is taking advantage of the last few anxieties, ones related to agreeing upon food and being present for the child during the vital stages before puberty. Swiss Miss is clearly trying to communicate to any mothers (who have already purchased this product, since the campaign finds itself on the packets themselves) that by choosing hot chocolate, especially this particular brand of hot chocolate, they are 1. making their children happy because hot chocolate is sweet and easy to agree upon, and 2. manufacturing the ideal environment for meaningful time, for togetherness, as it involves sharing, indulgence, and relative immobility. More importantly, the ad attempts to remind women that a good relationship with their children is something that a mother can — no, must — control, and that “quality time” and memories are scarce commodities that can be bought. This brings us to the parody that Kevin Q. Hilgartner and I constructed in response.

On Swiss Miss’s Keurig page, we found a mother-daughter-bonding image very similar to the one on the packet, accompanied by a brief and problematic blurb about Swiss Miss hot chocolate in its Keurig form:
Screen Shot 2014-04-11 at 8.07.18 AM SwissMissKcup(Image source: https://www.keurig.com/swissmiss-k-cup#.U0gkuq1dW50)

Using this as a template, we produced this fake advertisement:


(Background images taken from-
young woman: http://www.funwirks.com/Products/Decade-80s/American-Punk-Girl-Costume.aspx
rim reaper: http://itmakessenseblog.com/2013/03/01/unmasking-the-grim-reapers-foot-soldiers/grim-reaper/
ountain extension: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Swiss_Alps_003_(6815891681).jpg)

First, in the blurb, we focused on breaking down the rhetoric Swiss Miss uses to give a sense of quality to their product, targeting the use of the word “imported” to describe their cocoa. While we didn’t elaborate on where the cocoa was probably imported from (possibly African cocoa plantations with harsh conditions and child laborers), we instead elaborated on the effective glossing over of what it means to be “imported” in an attempt to emphasize the American public’s ignorance and lack of consideration for such things. Then, we unpacked the anxieties hiding behind the explicit reference to “one-on-one time” (in a satirical voice, of course). We address the fear that children are growing up too fast and that therefore bonding opportunities might be slim; that giving children treats is a way to prove whether or not a woman is a “good mother” (the nature of which, as Coutant points out, “is anchored in cultural values” and not some objective truth). We claim that Swiss Miss hot chocolate is “commodified family togetherness”, because this, after all, is what the company is advertising.

The image accompanying the blurb could be its own standalone parody, as it essentially repeats after the text through visuals while imitating the style of the promotional images on our hot chocolate packet. We see the same sort of image, of a prepubescent girl looking with love and interest at her mother while they both drink hot chocolate, accompanied my the same soft, mature, imperative script. In our ad, however, we give form to the anxieties implicit in the original’s message. In the background we’ve placed two looming specters, one of a young adult wearing stereotypically rebellious and/or revealing clothes, and another of the grim reaper. The young adult, positioned behind the little girl, alludes to society’s presumed outcome of a childhood lacking parental bonding — rebellion, sexual infidelity, etc. The grim reaper, of course, represents the mother’s fear of growing old and, by extension, death, a fear that strengthens the anxious need to spend as much “quality” time with the child as possible. Then, instead of “Create the Moment”, we changed the slogan to “Buy the Togetherness” — this, of course, references Swiss Miss’s allusions to a mother’s ability and responsibility to purchase a product that will speed bonding with her child.

This strategy is not unique. Other chocolate companies have advertised their product as a bonding tool using extremely similar images, including Hershey’s:

and Nestle:

photo (3)


(Photograph taken by me)

Ultimately, these advertisements exist to fashion chocolate into a device essential to the raising of appreciative, “normal” children, and to the creation of fulfilling and meaningful bonds and memories between mother and child. This technique participates in consumerism that is anxious, self-liable, and heavily dependent on gender and class stereotypes. While the majority of this essay has focused on the ads’ effects on motherhood, it’s important to note that “today, women live their lives in a context of personal and cultural beliefs that all women are or at some point want to be mothers, since it is assumed that motherhood for women is a natural consequence of adulthood”, and therefore the ads’ reach extends not only to women but to society as a whole (Coutant).


Works Cited

 Coutant, Alexandre, Valérie-Inés de La Ville, Malene Gram and Nathalie Boireau. “Motherhood, Advertising, and Anxiety: A Cross-Cultural Perspective on Danonino Commercials”. Advertising & Society Review. 12.2 (2011). No pages listed. Project Muse. Web. 10 April 2014.

“Swiss Miss”. Wikipedia: the Free Encyclopedia. 12 August 2013. Web. 9 April 2014. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Swiss_Miss&gt;

Wheatley, John J. and Sadaomi Oshikawa. “The Relationship Betweem Anxiety and Positive and Negative Advertising Appeals”. Journal of Marketing Research. 7.1 (1970). 85-89. Web. 10 April 2014.