A big bar of chocolate, all for yourself?

I have a confession to make: I have never—ever—eaten a full large or medium-sized pack of chocolate in one go. No, not the 5-star kind of bar. I’m referring to the Cadbury’s Dairy Milk kind of chocolate bar that has indentations on it. No, not even the 35g ‘small’ bar, so forget the medium-sized or larger-sized ones.

While I was a little school kid, in Bhopal (my dad was in a transferable bank job that took me around India), our monthly grocery purchases used to include one chocolate. This is the earliest I remember seeing and eating a bar of chocolate. Middle-class family, 1980s India – so that one bar of chocolate was precious! I was always told to share that small bar (if it was not the 5-star, or a Double-Decker, a personal favorite, which I was allowed to eat fully) of chocolate (usually Cadbury’s or Amul) by breaking it along the indentation and giving pieces of it to my mother, father, and friends at Bhopal’s MIG colony (I didn’t want to share my chocolate with Neetu in the next building, but that’s a different story altogether). And this, despite me being the only child! My parents could have easily indulged me by asking me to enjoy the entire bar all by myself in one go, but no! I’m forever grateful to them for this small lesson.

Much later, when we could afford a fridge at home, I used to eat 2 squares, at best, and keep the rest of the bar in the fridge, and finish the bar in the next few days.

That behavior stuck. So, even when I started working and bought a chocolate bar on my own, it felt indulgent and gluttonous to eat an entire bar by myself. Even a 4-bar Kit-Kat doesn’t seem appropriate for me to eat it all by myself in one go. Of course, these days, I’m more overpowered by the cloying sweetness of it all than any ingrained behavior from my younger days.

When I reflected upon this behavior during my 30s, it actually felt right from a health and sugar point of view. So, I passed it on to my kids and they have it ingrained in their heads that eating an entire bar of chocolate in one go is inappropriate, regardless of the reason you ascribe to that act.

I don’t know what they would do when they can buy a large bar of chocolate on their own, though 🙂 It is entirely up to them to do what they feel is right, at that point in their lives.

But the first time when my daughter, as a child, wanted a large chocolate (it was a Cadbury’s Dairy Milk Silk) for herself, to eat it all in one go, while I was aghast at the idea, I asked her why she wanted to eat a big bar all by herself, and presumably in one go.

What she told me was very illuminating! It seems she saw an ad on TV where a young girl was holding a large bar of chocolate in her hand and was just taking big bites out of it, unlike how we used to eat such big bars at home – by breaking it into smaller pieces—along the obvious indentations—and eating just one or two at a time… and keeping it back in the fridge for later consumption, again, in small quantities!

Her question, as a child, was why we didn’t eat chocolates like that – one pack per person and we take a bite directly from the bar and finish it all in one go. It seemed, to her, that people are generally supposed to eat chocolates like the way they are shown in ads on TV and not the way we eat them at home!

I explained to her (whatever she could understand as a child) that it was unhealthy to eat so much chocolate in one go and the need to eat such sweet indulgences in moderation so that we don’t overdo such unhealthy food items (while also not going the other extreme by completely shunning them, which would lead to FOMO and more craving).

Now, I have zero issues with how anyone eats their chocolate bars – fully, on their own, in one go… whatever. Their chocolate, their money, their health, their rules.

But I do notice that those tempting advertising shots that show young people holding a giant bar of chocolate and taking giant bites out of it directly do create a craving in the viewers’ minds. This is the primary point of advertising – seed and influence behavior. What people end up doing is entirely up to each person, and advertising is merely a suggestion, not a diktat. But besides advertising-induced behaviors, there is peer pressure too and they all work together to influence people.

A standard Cadbury’s Dairy Milk Silk advertisement always has a few shots of young people (usually teenagers or slightly older) holding a bar in their hand and taking bites directly from it. Sure, this is to induce sales and it works wonders, I can see that.

But, in an era when there is at least some awareness about the sugar content in such food items and the overall unhealthiness of it all, I was wondering—just wondering—if big chocolate brands would consider NOT showing such indulgent behaviors on screen as a way to influence young people.

Think about it – what if a Haldiram’s or a Bikano shows one person eating multiple besan laddoos from a box full of laddoos? Isn’t that the kind of behavior Cadbury’s is perpetuating? Take the comparison based on sugar, per serving as intended in the box/packs.

Dairy Milk Silk mentions the serving size as 20g in a 150g pack. But even on a 100g base, the total sugars is more than 50%. Bikano’s Besan Ladoo’s serving size is 33g (one laddoo, I presume), and 24% of that single serving is sugar. If Bikano showed a young person sitting in front of the TV with an entire box of 12 laddoos and eating them all one by one (or at least eating multiple laddoos back to back), that would, most definitely, evoke some consternation. So why wouldn’t the same consternation manifest when Cadbury’s shows a young person eating off an entire big bar of chocolate?

Shouldn’t Cadbury’s reconsider how they are depicting the consumption of their chocolate?

Ironically, I’m suggesting this for Cadbury’s benefit.

India is already widely known to be the “Diabetes capital of the world

At some point very soon, when the awareness around not just diabetes but also obesity peaks, there is bound to be a visceral backlash against most fast food brands (which already treat India very poorly as against many other countries where the rules are far more stringent). If you did not know about this, start by watching this documentary:

Or, read this.

Cadbury’s is just one of the many brands that sell severely unhealthy food items in India. But I’m using them as just one example given that my daughter pointed to their ad while seeking to emulate a behavior showcased in their marketing communication.

A lot of brands have started showcasing a semblance of responsibility in their advertising.

For instance, smartphone brands and mobile network brands have started showing that it is ok to switch off and spend time away from phones, and with real people in the offline world.

Levi’s has started asking people to ‘Buy better. Wear longer’!

KLM launched a ‘Fly responsibly’ campaign where it even asks you, ‘Could you take a train instead?’! It’s a different thing that KLM was sued for this campaign because they were alleged to be ‘greenwashing’.

And yes, alcohol brands have long advocated for ‘drinking responsibly’.

Cadbury did launch a ‘30% less sugar’ variant of Dairy Milk in 2019. But the ad cleverly avoided mentioning why a ‘30% less sugar’ variant even exists. Understandably so – they cannot afford to talk either about the increased (but not enough) interest in healthy snacking or the rise of health issues due to excessive sugar content in chocolates.

This was perhaps the only visible effort by Cadbury’s so far in addressing, however vaguely, the elephant in the room, besides going after someone who pointed out unhealthy levels of sugar in Cadbury’s Bournvita (and eventually—and surreptitiously—reducing some amount of sugar after adequate backlash).

But, more than making product-level changes (which they eventually have to ramp up), a small, subtle behavior change could nudge people to consider their chocolate consumption differently.

What can they do?

For starters, Cadbury can stop showing people taking bites from a giant bar of chocolate. Instead, they could consciously show people breaking smaller pieces—along the already visible indentations, no doubt—and consuming responsibly a limited portion of chocolate from a visibly large bar. And perhaps giving pieces to others, storing the remaining in the fridge, etc.

The ‘giving pieces to others’ plays nicely into the ‘sharing’ theme that Cadbury has addressed from time to time.

The ‘storing in the fridge’ theme too plays to the ‘extend the happiness’ concept.

But, on a larger level, what these small changes may do is not normalize excessive, indulgent eating of chocolates. They don’t say, ‘Don’t eat chocolates’. Instead, they point towards ‘responsible eating’. This is not very different from the ‘responsible drinking’ campaigns by alcohol brands. And yet, chocolate brands haven’t waded into the ‘responsible consumption’ zone because they can afford not to care about it. For now.

I’m hoping that attitude will change soon enough.

Cadbury’s cannot afford to directly talk about the harm its products are causing. But if it makes smaller, subtle behavioral changes in how people are seen to be eating its chocolates in its widely publicized advertising, that could help influence behavior for the better in the long run. The brand could always use PR efforts to communicate the reason behind such changes and there, they have a better platform to talk about the larger picture around changing consumption patterns, health, etc.

This is not just for Cadbury/Mondelez alone. Chips brands too show a person (usually a celebrity; and we emulate their action) sitting down in front of the TV with a big bag of chips. How about showing them sitting down with a visibly smaller bowl of chips? Why not make it normal and acceptable to consume a much smaller—and healthier—quantity of chips?

Related read on ‘responsible’ advertising from the perspective of sleep.