Thai skin-whitening ad removed after backlash for suggesting ‘Just being white, you will win’

A video promoting a brand of skin-whitening pills in Thailand has been withdrawn after howls of protest in social media that the ad, which appears to suggest that in order to be successful you need to be pale, is “racist” and “ignorant.”

The video for cosmetics brand Seoul Secret’s Snowz brand features Thai celebrity Cris Horwang, who appears despondent after her glowing white skin turns black. “Just being white, you will win,” she says in the commercial.

The company withdrew the ad after an angry response just hours after it was posted on Facebook.

The video has made international headlines, with BBC, Washington Post, South China Morning Post, The Independent, The Guardian, CNN, Daily Mail, CNBC and Straits Times among the news outlets to cover the story.

In the ad, Horwang says: “In my world there is tough competition. If I don’t take care of myself, everything I have built, the whiteness I have invested in, could be gone.” The endline ran: “Eternally white, I’m confident”.

“Suggesting people with dark skin are losers is definitely racist,” wrote a commenter on Facebook. A story by BBC  noted that darker skin in Thailand is associated with labouring in the fields and lower class.

Thai Dunkin Donuts ad from 2013

Thai Dunkin Donuts ad from 2013

This is the second time in just over two year years that an ad from Thailand using a ‘black-faced’ model has courted controversy. In September 2013, a Facebook image for Dunkin’ Donuts went viral for featuring a woman with black face paint, bright pink lipstick and a beehive hairstyle to promote its new charcoal donut. The line by the image in the ad read: “Break every rule of deliciousness.”

It was pointed out at the time that it is common to use racial stereotypes in advertising in Thailand. A toothpaste brand uses the tagline “it’s black, but it’s good”, and household mop brand the Black Man has run ads featuring a smiling black man in a tuxedo and bow tie.

Though Dunkin Donuts US headquarters apologised for the ad and said it would not run in mainstream media, the head of the brand’s Thai franchise, Nadim Salhani, defended the work at the time. He said: “We’re not allowed to use black to promote our doughnuts? I don’t get it. What’s the big fuss? What if the product was white and I painted someone white, would that be racist?”

In 2014, in neighbouring Malaysia, an ad for Hong Leong Financial Group was hammered by social media and the international press for using a clumsy ‘blackfaced’ domestic worker to sell insurance.

The ad, which was made in-house, was later withdrawn from all media, and the company apologised.


Get the latest media and marketing industry news (and views) direct to your inbox.

Sign up to the free Mumbrella Asia newsletter now.



Sign up to our free daily update to get the latest in media and marketing