Godiva Causes a Stir in Japan by Urging Women to Stop Buying Chocolates for Male Coworkers

Chocolatier calls out Valentine's Day custom

Godiva Japan
Headshot of Tim Nudd

Godiva has made waves in Japan this month by questioning a Valentine’s Day tradition in which women are expected to buy giri choco, or “obligation chocolate,” for male coworkers as a thank-you for their support and cooperation throughout the year.

The Belgian chocolatier ran a full-page ad on Feb. 1 in the Nihon Keizaki Shimbun financial newspaper, in which Godiva Japan president Jerome Chouchan suggested the giri choco practice is antiquated and should be retired.

Here is the translated text of the ad:

Japan, let’s stop the giri choco practice.

There are women who say they hate Valentine’s Day, and there are also women who feel relieved when Valentine’s Day falls on a weekend. Why? Because of the difficulty and inconvenience of thinking of who to give giri choco to, and then having to buy it. They have to spend mental energy and money, but it’s hard to break the cycle, and they feel irritated about the custom every year.

We at Godiva speak from experience, because we see this happen annually. Of course it’s OK to give chocolate to someone you have genuine feelings for, but it’s OK not to give anyone giri choco. Honestly, in this day and age, it’s better not to. This is what we’ve come to believe.

Valentine’s Day is supposed to be a day when you tell someone your pure feelings. It’s not a day on which you’re supposed to do something extra for the sake of smooth relations at work. So men, especially if you’re the top person in your company, tell the women in your office “Don’t force yourself to give anyone giri choco.”

We want more people to experience the joy of telling people their feelings, and we want them to enjoy Valentine’s Day more than they do now. “I love you.” “I adore you.” “Thank you, truly.” Those aren’t things you say to be polite. From now on, we want to continue giving these earnest sentiments an important place in our hearts.”

Men eventually return the favor, giving women platonic gifts a month later on so-called “White Day.” But Godiva finds the whole thing distasteful, and is urging women to follow their hearts instead—even if that means treating themselves and their friends first.

Along with the newspaper ad, the brand released a commercial (below) from agency Mori Inc. and Stink Studios, shot in Tokyo by fashion star Charlotte Wales, showing the ultimate “Galentine’s Day” for modern Japanese women.

The campaign included out-of-home, as well as social films and events.

While Godiva’s attitude certainly feels progressive, it’s worth mentioning that women tend to buy lower-priced chocolates, not premium sweets like Godiva, for giri choco. So, opposing the practice likely won’t hurt Godiva’s sales—in fact, it could free up some extra money for women to splurge on Godiva for themselves and their friends.

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@nudd Tim Nudd is a former creative editor of Adweek.