Catherine Redfern looks at the crazy world of chocolate advertising
There are two very different chocolate adverts on British tv at the moment, offering two very different views about who should be eating the stuff and why. One claims that chocolate is for men only – literally, it’s “not for girls” the ads say. The other puts forward the view that women literally cannot survive without chocolate and a world without it would be a world where half the human race lose their sanity.
The Yorkie ad sparked off tons of publicity as Nestle embarked on a campaign to ‘reclaim the sweets’ (groan-sorry) for men. The tv ads show women attempting to purchase the chunky chocolate bar – but the only way they can do this is by glueing on fake beards, dressing up as builders with hard hats, and swaggering into corner shops asking (in deep, gruff, fake-male voice) for a “Yorkie please.” In one ad, the large, bearded, super-gruff male shopkeeper ‘tests’ the woman to prove she is a man, by quizzing her on stereotypically male questions, thrusting a fake spider in her face to see if she screams, and so on. He finally hands the bar over, but when he tells her the it really highlights the blue in her eyes, she gasps “really?” and he snatches the Yorkie out of her hands and bites off a huge, masculine chunk in one go.
Women and men even eat chocolate differently in the world of advertising – men snap off chunks on the side of their mouth and chew and swallow purposefully, and of course, they scowl as they’re doing it. Women suckand nibble slowly, eyes closed, perhaps raising a well-manicured fingertip to the corner of their mouth to daintily catch a few stray crumbles – think Cadbury’s Flake for the classic freudian way to eat chocolate. (The only exception that I can think of to this is Dawn French stuffing wedges of Terry’s Chocolate Orange into her mouth in a most unladylike fashion.)
However, chocolate isn’t a pseudo-orgasmic experience for the men who eat Yorkie, of course. It’s a re-affirmation of their manhood. The Yorkie ads, on tv and posters, used the slogans “It’s not for girls”, “don’t feed the birds”, “not available in pink” and “King size, not Queen size.” Interestingly, the campaign even affected the design of the bar itself, seemingly intended to literally stop women buying the bar in the real world. The “O” in Yorkie has been altered into a “no go” road sign, with a line cutting through a woman symbol. The bar also has the phrase “not for girls” on it.
Nestle claims to be taking a stand for the “British bloke” and says that by making a chocolate “just for men”, they are offering men something just for them in a changing, confusing world. They have actually used the word “reclaiming”, as if women have “taken” chocolate away from men – despite the obvious fact that chocolate is mainly marketed to women by the people who create it. But from the ads, they seem to be targeting not “British men” but British, large, bearded, macho, builders. That’s gotta be a limited market, guys. Using the most hackneyed stereotypes, the Yorkie ads seem to be trying to say that eating chocolate is an okay thing for a man to be seen to be doing; it isn’t a cissy thing to do, it’s not emasculating. But they are also saying that men can only feel happy eating chocolate if it is associated with everything very, very MACHO. Men can enjoy things associated with women – as long as they are constantly demonstrating in the most tired cliches that they are still REAL MEN. They can only eat chocolate if the chocolate in question is branded as NOT-FEMALE. Really, they do protest too much, don’t you think?
Although the Yorkie ad got more publicity, the Echo advert is perhaps the most intriguing. Two, slightly nervous, middle-aged men with a look of desperation or weary resignation (presumably gained through years of nagging), sit outside what seems to be a pub, facing the camera. “Can you imagine a world without chocolate?” One of them says, in slow, serious, incredulous tones. “Can you imagine what our lives would be like?”
There then follows a montage of images of women rampaging through the streets with riot police holding them back, and women screaming at cowed, silent men, in their homes. “Society as we know it would break down.” comments the bloke, in awed, hushed tones. The last but one shot shows a large crowd of serious, grateful men raising their glasses to the camera. “That’s why the men of the world thank you, Fox’s, for putting extra chocolate in Echo” (or words to that effect). “…thank you for keeping our world sane.” Just as the ad ends, there is a shot of a bloke sitting in an armchair at home with a screaming woman swinging a vacuum cleaner, about to bring it crashing down on his unsupecting head. The image cuts off before it smashes down, of course.
Of course, it’s humourous, of course it’s a joke, but as someone else once wrote, “my brain doesn’t have an off-switch.” This ad raises tons of questions. What if the roles were reversed? What if the final shot showed a man about to bring a heavy object crashing down on a woman’s head? Why is violence by women against men seen as cartoonish and silly? If the roles were reversed, it might almost be an accurate picture of what’s going on in many homes, following the recent report which showed that two women a week die from domestic abuse. Perhaps Echo have got it wrong – perhaps its the men who should be force-fed chocolate?
Where did this idea come from that without chocolate, women would literally break down and riot in the streets? It’s like some kind of addictive drug! Is it referring to the supposed chocolate-PMT connection? Do women have some deep biological need for chocolate that men just don’t have? Why is chocolate being portrayed as some opiate of the misses, keeping us sweet, keeping us docile, keeping us ‘sane’? Women literally cannot survive without chocolate, the ad is saying. Chocolate keeps us docile and uncomplaining enough to do domestic chores. Women will put up with more crap if we have chocolate to take away the pain. After all, the woman in the final scene is in the middle of vacuuming while the bloke sits down in front of the tv. No wonder she’s mad.
What a weird world we live in, when a simple foodstuff can have such far-reaching implications. The choice is yours – buy Yorkie, and you are not buying chocolate, you’re buying a cliched concept of ‘masculinity.’ Or buy Echo, and by the looks of the ad, you’re buying some kind of numbing, depressant, class B drug.
Roll on lent!