On Monday, Whittaker’s launched its latest novelty chocolate-lolly mash up with a chocolatey answer to retro bakesale treat coconut ice. The Coconut Ice Surprise chocolate has a twist though, 20c from each block goes to Plunket – a charity which New Zealanders agree is a worthy cause. However, to relate the chocolate to the charity, Whittaker's has built the campaign around baby gender reveal parties, causing a backlash from the public who argue gender norms have expanded beyond blue for boys and pink for girls.
The limited edition product was launched along with a series of ads that rolled out on Whittaker's digital channels, following four expectant families revealing the gender of their unborn children to their friends and families. Gender reveal parties are a trend that emerged with the development of social media, they have gained popularity in New Zealand in recent years, seemingly at odds against the growing awareness of non-binary or fluid genders.
The funds raised from the chocolate will go towards Plunket's 'Raise a Bundle' campaign, which focuses on nurturing children for the first 1,000 days, leading to healthier outcomes throughout their lives.
After the launch on social media, a number of commenters questioned the campaign's intentions, given the eraser of intersex, transgender, gender non-binary and gender fluid people.
Facebook commenter Vessie Pencheva said: "Would be great to have a rainbow block, for those parents like myself who couldn't care less about the gender of our kids (But still love Whittaker's Chocolate)."
Twitter user @chamfy said it was a gender reveal campaign was a risky move PR-wise, if the assumption that one of Whittaker's target markets is millennials is correct.
I can't figure out if the new @WhittakersNZ Plunket 'gender reveal' chocolates are inadvertently tone deaf or whether their advertising agency's polling genuinely shows middle New Zealand still believes pink = girl, blue = boy— Chamfy (@chamfy) February 16, 2019
However, some commenters weren't so diplomatic, with another Twitter user writing: "I have been so jaded about Whittaker's stupid blue/pink/boy/girl chocolate buillshit because of this. I love that a great chocolate company is doing a cute thing to benefit Plunket, but could we have it without the weird gender binary baby trash?"
After Stuff and Newshub wrote about the reaction, the backlash only intensified – this time against those who had a problem with the original campaign.
TVNZ Breakfast show host Daniel Faitaua reacted to the criticism by calling the response "absolutely pathetic". Numerous commenters agreed with Faitaua's response, calling those offended by the campaign 'snowflakes', 'dumb', and 'too PC'.
Members of the rainbow community disagreed. RainbowYouth executive director Frances Arns told Stuff it was fantastic to see Whittaker's support a worthy cause like Plunket, but called the framing of the campaign "disappointing".
Whittaker's did not comment directly when asked by StopPress whether any consideration was given to how Whittaker's fans would respond to advertising about gender reveal parties, given the current trend towards an expansion of gender norms. A spokesperson released the following response:
“Our campaign was intended to be a celebration of our partnership with Plunket, rather than any kind of statement on gender identity. Coconut ice is usually pink so that was our starting point, but given Plunket’s association with babies we went for blue as the one other coconut ice colour we needed for the surprise element of this campaign. The gender reveals that we filmed were with four expectant families that wanted to be part of a light-hearted event linked to our partnership with Plunket and we feel that their participation is a great endorsement of this campaign to raise funds for this iconic NZ charity and we really appreciate their involvement."
The Whittaker's-Plunket campaign will run while stocks last, with Whittaker's expecting the stock to sell out within a couple of weeks.
While Whittaker's campaigns are generally met with positive reaction, it is certainly not the first New Zealand brand to potentially miss the mark in recent times.
Air New Zealand has had mixed reviews for its once-renowned safety videos in recent times. In 2017 its 'World's Coolest Safety Video' evoked horror from customers, given the video's relation to Air New Zealand's only major air disaster, 1979's Mt Erebus tragedy. Most recently, the 'It's Kiwi Safety' video was abruptly pulled from flights after it was met with widespread criticism by domestic and international customers.