Modernity in British advertising: selling cocoa and chocolate in the 1930s

Michael French (Department of Economic and Social History, University of Glasgow College of Social Sciences, Glasgow, UK)

Journal of Historical Research in Marketing

ISSN: 1755-750X

Publication date: 20 November 2017



The purpose of this paper is to analyse the evolution of “push” marketing in the confectionery industry in Britain during the 1930s. It examines the interplay between a manufacturer and advertising agency in creating advertising for cocoa and chocolate.


A survey of the literature examines the uses of health and well-being in the design of advertising in Britain between the wars. The records of Rowntree and its main advertising agency, J Walter Thompson, are used to examine the themes and tactics used in advertising for cocoa and Aero chocolate bars during the 1930s.


The paper emphasises the different ways in which health and nutrition was used in advertising for the two products. The campaigns of the 1930s built on earlier use of these themes. J Walter Thompson looked for ways of presenting commodities as “new and improved” and their role extended into pressing for changes to production methods and the nature of products. Themes of modernity, sexuality and lifestyles all featured, confirming conclusions of earlier studies. However, targeting of mothers and of different age and gender groups indicated that market segmentation was used extensively via print media and tailored advertising messages.


Although Cadbury, Rowntree and confectionery have been studied in depth before, this paper emphasises their role in applying new advertising ideas to everyday items. It points to the influence of advertising on the mass of consumers compared to the middle- and upper-income groups targeted in the marketing of houses, motor-cars and new consumer durables.



French, M. (2017), "Modernity in British advertising: selling cocoa and chocolate in the 1930s", Journal of Historical Research in Marketing, Vol. 9 No. 4, pp. 451-466.

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