We have forgiven colonialism. Or we have forgotten it. Or we took proxy for history class. What else can explain this strange chocolate ad, asks Nisha Susan
THE THIRD World is so useful. Like that shirt you wore for 10 years and are now using to mop the kitchen floor, you can always find one last squeeze. In 2010, American giant Kraft Foods acquired old rival British confectionary Cadbury globally (including the Indian operations) for $19.6 billion. India is one of the big reasons Kraft wanted Cadbury. According to the Wharton Business School, acquiring Cadbury gave Kraft access to 70 percent of India’s $425 million chocolate market as well as a distribution network that reaches 1.2 million shops. Access, trust and cachet that Cadbury acquired by importing chocolates into India since 1948. At the other end of the pipeline is Ghana, the second biggest cocoa producer in the world where Cadbury has been buying cocoa beans for over a century. Ghana and its neighbours in West Africa have had a complex and bloody modern history that is tied closely to how much cocoa it can produce for export. Even after independence, West African cocoa farmers are fighting corrupt governments and greedy companies to be paid fairly. As in highly profitable businesses in India, unpaid or ill-paid young children form the bedrock of Ghana’s cocoa business. In 2011, Cadbury adopted a fair trade agreement with Ghana’s cocoa farmers. All good? All good. (Shut up, you sceptic in the back bench.)
So here we are in mid-2011 and Cadbury is making a heated attempt to sell Bournville to India — a market rather suspicious of dark chocolate. Picture a bunch of highly educated, smart copywriters getting together and saying: Yes, dark chocolate equals sophistication. Sophistication means exclusion. Hmm.
Then somehow, in a process that shall always remain mysterious (and as we find out, oblivious) to history, the creatives arrive at two television ads for India. Ad #1, shot in Sweden, in which a butler is grouchy because his employer has criticised him for being unsophisticated. He eats Bournville while his master is away. A piano falls on his head. A punishment from the cosmos because “you can’t just eat a Bournville, you have to earn it.” This ad, its creators said, was in the Wodehouse spirit. Strange homage since the success of the Jeeves books lay in the butler’s omnipotent sophistication. Old Plum would have slit his throat before putting Servant’s Pratfall as a gag. Even in a first draft.
Ad #2. White buyer in Ghana village at table is examining cocoa bean under a loupe and pronounces: “He will become a Bournville one day.” The next one he rejects, saying, “He is nothing.” The strange pronoun is explained when the bean suddenly turns into a weeping humanoid baby. European buyer says, “Tell him I am sorry,” looking less sorry and more embarrassed for the baby bean’s social solipsism. Gathered villagers, particularly an old man, looks troubled. Young man next to him (clearly an extra from Blood Diamond still in character) sweeps crying cocoa baby onto the ground and does a short rakshasa laugh. “Only the Finest Ghanaian Cocoa goes into making a Bournville.”
Ad films are often banal. They are sometimes sublime, gripping their tiny claws into culture in a way cinema is too hulking to. This Bournville ad is not clever or funny. It is cruel. And more troubling, it is incredibly ignorant.
The glory of globalisation lies in its amiable, ironic nested narratives Paul Auster would envy. So in 2011, the new emperors are not just squeezing Ghana and selling cocoa to India. It is also so comfortably assured of India’s amnesia that it can even use the process of squeezing Ghana to pimp chocolate.
This isn’t a call to ban this ad. That’d be boring. This is a call to fix an education system so myopic it allows smart copywriters to create this ad without a hint of the painfully revealing Rorschach test it is. This is a call to fix an education system so limited in its culture capital, it is producing us — people who conflate sophistication with good old-fashioned oppression. Us who will look at this ad and say, “So cute. Cocoa bean is crying.”
You can’t just buy cool. You have to earn it.
Nisha Susan is Features Editor, Tehelka.