Is Axe’s “Dark Temptation” Really White Fetishization of Blackness?

I’m sure many of you are familiar with Axe cosmetic products. They make body spray, shower gel, deodorant sticks and other scented items for male grooming. Axe, along with such competitors as ‘Tag’ and ‘Bod’, run advertising campaigns infamous for their over-sexualized images of men and women. The basic premise of most commercials is that young men who bear these products will be swarmed by droves of uncontrollably horny women. Axe’s newest product, Dark Temptation is no exception. The ad campaign features a young white man who, after spraying himself with Dark Temptation, is transformed into the one thing women cannot resist: a Black man. Well, kind of. While he is phenotypically Black and will inevitably have more trouble hailing a cab in New York city, the tantalizing subject of Axe’s ad campaign is actually intended to be a Chocolate man (watch the commercial here).

Axe’s product statement is clear: through Dark Temptation, any average-Joe white guy can go from being milk dud to a chocolate stud. This is a variation of same idea behind their entire line of cosmetic products. The question on the table is: does Axe’s use of a white-turned-Black (or chocolate) colored man in their Dark Temptation ad campaign resurrect a centuries old tradition of fetishizing Blackness in American popular culture?

Initially I was skeptical, but my sister pointed out to me that we can not look at this guy’s transformation from white skin to brown skin, in a vacuum. Whiteness has historically been associated with cleanliness, purity and chastity in American popular culture, while Blackness has often been associated with being dirty, bad or promiscuous. Just look at Disney movies – even when no race is given, the villains (Scar, Ursula, Jafar) are always darker than the heroes (Simba, Arielle, Aladdin). Black men and women have been over-sexualized in American popular culture for centuries, often as a rationalization for sub-human treatment. Lynch mobs would castrate and hang Black men, and rape Black women, for our imposed inability to control an insatiable lust. This was epitomized in the inhuman treatment of Saartjie “Sarah” Baartman, dubbed Hottentot Venus by her 19th century European captors. Before television perpetuated vicious sexual stereotypes about Black men and women in movies and music videos, African women such as Baartman were exhibited as sexual sideshow attractions. It looks a little different when we contextualize “Dark Temptation” alongside historical portrayals of the Black libido in American popular culture.

On the other hand, I think Axe is representative of a lot of American companies whose advertising dollars target heterosexual, twenty-something males. Sex sells with this demographic, and while I do see allusions to the erotic nature of being Black-skinned in the “Dark Temptation” commercial, the chocolate man in question actually maintains the facial features and hair texture of a European, white man. Therefore, one could conclude that Axe’s portrayal of a chocolate man does not have any racial connotations at all, intentional or unintentional.


21 Comments to ‘Is Axe’s “Dark Temptation” Really White Fetishization of Blackness?’:

  1. Maya Freelon Asante on 4 Feb 2009 at 9:20 pm: 1

    The first thing I though of when I saw this commercial was the white fantasy both male and female to be irresistibly chocolate, to be ‘bad’ to be wanted and really act on that “Dark Temptation”. A curiosity, but never wanting to bear the full burden. Just spray it on for a while and enjoy it while it lasts. But there is also a history of repulsion associated with blackness, the black body and figure by whites and blacks in the US. Saartjie Baartman was put in a zoo-like display and was considered simultaneously intriguing, sexual and disgusting to white onlookers. The ‘Drunken Negro Face Cookies’ out of Greenwich Village represent a different type of chocolate man, created by someone who is clearly racist. His cookie depicts a caricature of a black face with red eyes in honor of President Obama. This isn’t the side of “Dark Temptation” Axe body spray wanted to sell to their wannabe customers, but it’s real and offensive to most real black folks. Check out the link:
    Drunken Negro Face Cookies

  2. Pierce Freelon on 4 Feb 2009 at 11:50 pm: 2

    I just noticed in the commercial that everything on this man turned chocolate-his hair, shirt, pants, everything. I think this implies that the transformation is food related, not race related. How does the race of his shirt play into the portrayals of Black sexuality? This is unlike the Drunken Negro Face Cookies, which are intended to emulate Black skin, as opposed to chocolate skin.

  3. Isaac Holloway on 9 Feb 2009 at 3:03 am: 3

    At face value its a funny commercial. Upon further thought and evaluation it does come off as spray on Black Male for a day. Am i offended…no not really i dont feel as though there was any malice and any possible offense was coincidental. But the correlation between the “chocolate man and sexual promiscuity” definately puts a check in the fetishization box.

  4. The Gourmez on 9 Feb 2009 at 4:17 pm: 4

    You can’t help but get a quick punch from the blackface when the transformation happens, as my initial “woah” came from that, not tasty goodness. I don’t think Axe intended it, but it’s there, nonetheless.

  5. The Truth on 10 Feb 2009 at 10:39 am: 5

    Its a commercial about a guy who is turned into chocolate because the spray is “chocolate scented.” You are the single stupidest person I have ever met if you think this an attempt to bring down the black race. Maybe you are just a little too insecure and want to believe that the producers wanted the white man to be changed black when really he was just turned into chocolate. Stop being so narrow-minded and focusing on race because posts like that are what keep racial barriers in our society.

  6. Ishmael on 10 Feb 2009 at 11:08 am: 6

    Women love chocolate

  7. Karl on 12 Feb 2009 at 8:25 am: 7

    Spray on Black Male for a Day? Are you fucking retarded?

  8. Pierce on 16 Feb 2009 at 4:27 pm: 8


    nobody is suggesting that it was Axe’s intention to “bring down the black race.” The question is simple – does “chocolate thunder” here, resurrect any residue of the centuries-old stereotype: Black=sex.

  9. alex on 19 Feb 2009 at 12:00 am: 9

    very well-put, Pierce.
    I think the answer is yes.

  10. anonymous on 20 Feb 2009 at 9:42 am: 10

    This commercial in no way has anything to do with race! You apparently have not heard that chocolate is also known as an aphrodesiac. Chocolate is the candy of love. The commercial was created to be exactly what it was…a man made of chocolate. Last time I checked, there was such a thing call dark chocolate too. The women flush after him because he is chocolate, not because his skin is the same color as and african americans. Why is it always about the color of someones skin? Do you do the same thing when you buy a chocolate easter bunny, even though he is supposed to be white?

  11. Truth on 20 Feb 2009 at 10:19 am: 11

    Thank you very much anonymous. Women love chocolate which is why they throw themselves at the white male turned into “chocolate” not a black man. They are attracted because they want chocolate not because of his color. This is in no way related to race.

  12. Dylan on 20 Feb 2009 at 10:22 am: 12

    You are stupid as shit if you actually believe this was a play on race. Open your mind and look beyond color you arrogant prick.

  13. Bobby Fontaine on 20 Feb 2009 at 10:58 am: 13

    I’ve always thought that the strong attraction between different races was driven by
    a natural process to insure survival of the species. I mean we don’t breed with our brothers and sisters or cousins. But still inbreeding within the races over thousands of years is not healthy.

    I think racism largely comes from inbreds instinctively knowing they are at a disadvantage where new blood in the tribe would create a more progressive breed in their offspring which they would have to compete with. It is true of all races.

    Many African Americans are not simply Blacks. They are a mixed race who I personally think possess a lot of positive qualities that I do not see in whites or Blacks who have not been exposed to the bloodlines of other races. Obama would be one of them.

    I wonder if it had always been said that to have mixed blood makes one white rather than Black, if we would still be saying Obama is the first Black president.

    Why if a person is mixed Black and white are they said to be Black instead of white when really they are a whole new race of people?

  14. Bobby Fontaine on 21 Feb 2009 at 6:36 pm: 14

    It appears I have been blocked. How cowardly

  15. dark green in the back on 21 Feb 2009 at 9:07 pm: 15

    why do we majusculize Black and minusculize white? sorry, but if these are meant to be mutually exclusive terms (and clearly, in this site, as most places elsewhere, they are) then we need a standardized ruleset.

  16. Bobby Fontaine on 22 Feb 2009 at 4:07 pm: 16

    I am white. I capitalize black when referring to Blacks because whites have created a racist based society that resulted in there being terms refer to separate races. When talking about Blacks, it refers to a people forced to live separate in solidarity from the majority. When talking about whites, it is referring to the color of their skin. What I mean is that I grew up in an environment where if a topic was not specified to be about Blacks or a Black person, it was assumed to be referring to separate group of normal mainstream topics that were white.

    I am not sure I can explain my reasoning clearly. I don’t have a process for why I do it. In fact it is a burden to have to remember where I have to go back and fix all the b’s I forget to capitalize. I just don’t feel right unless I do it and don’t feel right capitalizing white when referring to white people. I suppose if there ever comes a day when referring to Blacks is solely in reference to the color of their skin, I will stop capitalizing the word Black when referring to them.

    Oh yeah ,, I know how best to explain it. If I am referring to Americans or Iranians or Palestinians, I capitalize the word associated with their heritage. As long as Blacks have a legitimate collective claim to being in solidarity against white oppression, I feel I should capitalize the world black when using it to refer to them. But it makes no sense to me to do it with the word white. Maybe you would feel the exact opposite.

    It is really that I feel like I am disrespecting Blacks if I don’t do it and lending arrogance to whites if I apply the same standard to both races. It’s like with the economy, it makes no sense to try to blame the people at the bottom calling them losers when clearly – if the people at the top are so smart, we shouldn’t be having these problems. I mean how can white people consistently pick Blacks apart as an excuse to further separate the races because of all the problems that come out of the ghetto. If white people are so far above Blacks, then why can’t they come up with solutions for the problems in the ghetto. But now that Blacks are coming up with their own solutions, even sending a Black man to the White House, whites have escalated their rhetoric to a whole new level to try to further separate themselves from Blacks.

    It’s like with pro-lifers who come out so strongly hating abortion and anyone that has one. But no one likes abortion so why rub their nose in it. Jesus would never do that. But then why can’t they come up with a way to make it so there is no need for abortions. That can be done but only if we look at sexuality more realistically while also ending poverty.

    Poverty could be gotten rid of easily but it would mean letting dirty people mix to easily with clean people who have created a culture that puts them above everyone else even as all the worlds problems point back to them being the cause of them all.

    My view of myself is that I am an African American, it’s just that I left Africa a few thousands years before those who have Black skin now did and adopted a white skin color along the way. All human beings evolved from Africans. When I see a Black person, I am looking at my heritage, my forefather and mother, a person that should be revered for the color of their skin. But then unlike a lot of white people, I am also proud I evolved from primates and all the other species that human beings sprang from the loins of over the last so many billions of years.

    I believe religion has engrained in White people (you see how I capitalize white because I am referring to us as a race living under a cloud of bigotry even if it is against ourselves) a sense that we came from heaven rather than chimpanzees. But then Blacks remind us by their appearance where we really came from. I think both Blacks and Whites suffer from failing to be able to look in the mirror and admit with pride we are animals. This is evident by how men of all races have always held themselves to be superior to women when there is no clear argument that can support that claim other than if the rest of the races of animals and women do not follow them in that belief, they have the ability to destroy everything worth living for with violence until this view is accepted.

    There is a definite divide between the intelligence that human beings, both make and female poses over other species of animals. And I am pretty sure there is a purpose for this design, in fact I am sure I know what it is. But it has nothing to do with satisfying men with being Gods or allowing white people to feel they came from the stars rather then their true heritage. But until whites figure this out for themselves or Blacks figure out a way to teach it to us, we may all destroy ourselves before we ever learn why we are what we have evolved to be because it is insane white people that are going to screw everything up so bad it can’t be fixed. That is the most important issue that should be on anyone agenda who wants to human race to survive. White people are sick and they can be cured. But the cure is no becoming us. It is leading us where the benefit of the difference in the color of skin can be used as a tool to facilitate this happening. I mean can you see this world surviving if everyone was white. It would already be dead.

    Thanks for responding. I take back the coward remark. I have tried to find a way to be closer to Blacks, to my roots, for a long time. It’s just that when the attorney general called Americans cowards on race issues the other day, which got white people all hot under the collar, I assumed he was talking about everyone.

  17. Truth on 23 Feb 2009 at 10:43 am: 17

    All I’m going to stay is that this forum is full of narrow-minded prejudiced douchebags. If you are trying to say that this commercial is insulting the black race you need to get fucking real. Women love chocolate, not black men. The women want the man because he is CHOCOLATE not because of the color of him. There is also white chocolate but had the man been turned into white chocolate, you would all have no problem now would you? You are the kind of ignorant jackasses that keep racism alive by taking everything for race not for what it really is.

  18. Delroy Constantine-Simms on 11 Mar 2009 at 9:50 am: 18

    The advert has been aired in the UK. I am not sure if Americans are aware that 2/3rds of the 1 Million Black people living in Britain are with white partners. Furthermore, the mixed race community is the fastest growing group in the UK. So for me this advert represents all the negative steretypes about black sexuality. By the way, I forgot to mention, that mixed raced children are the most over-represented group in foster homes and social care!

  19. toomuchTV on 28 Mar 2009 at 8:48 pm: 19

    The writer’s sister suggests we should not look at message/image in a vacuum. Perhaps she is right…we can not avoid the context of the real world. Sometimes we can find something to confirm our suspicions if we look hard enough. (Especially with creativity and a mind willing to fill the “vacuum”). I am certain that is how the notion of race developed. Ironically, the same approach can be used to detect the racism in society’s DNA. Then again, sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.

    I saw the commercial and I didn’t care for it. I could not get over the clash of the sensual affection for chocolate and cannibalism. How is that for historical context?

  20. mike on 6 Apr 2009 at 4:59 pm: 20

    your a stupid jigga boo if you think this product has anything to do with race. Just another nigg who wants to feel like your race is superior. White man rules!!!!

  21. Anonymous on 10 Oct 2011 at 6:25 pm: 21

    Love all and live and let live

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Published on February 4, 2009 at 12:41 am. 21 Comments.
Filed under men's issues,popular culture,ridiculousness.