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Thai cosmetics firm pulls 'You just need to be white to win' ad

Published 08/01/2016

An online advertisement by Thai cosmetics company Seoul Secret (AP)
An online advertisement by Thai cosmetics company Seoul Secret (AP)

A Thai cosmetics company has quickly pulled a video in which an actress wears blackface and promotes a skin-whitener with the slogan: "You just need to be white to win."

The retraction did little, however, to stem a debate the ad ignited about the regularity of racist advertisements in the South East Asian country.

The online ad for the new product called Snowz featured porcelain-skinned Thai film star Cris Horwang talking about being an ageing actress in a competitive industry.

"If I stopped looking after myself, everything that I have worked for - all the investment I have made to keep myself white - would disappear," says the 35-year-old actress. "New stars would replace me, I would fade away."

As she speaks, a smiling, younger woman enters the picture and Cris's own image darkens to charcoal black.

A male voice says: "You just need to be white to win."

A tirade of criticism erupted after the video was launched online on Thursday. Online commentators labelled the ad as racist and ignorant, while some heaped criticism on the actress for accepting the job. Others called it a strategic way to attract wide attention and boost sales.

"Ewwwwwww," was the reaction of 28-year-old Jutamas Tritaruyanon, one of many to post their disapproval on Facebook.

"This ad is so obviously racist and another attempt to brainwash Thai women," Jutamas, a Bangkok-based office worker, said. "They're saying that being dark is ugly. It's a narrow-minded and disgusting attitude."

The Thai cosmetics company Seoul Secret issued a "heartfelt apology" in a statement on Friday, saying it had pulled the video clip and related advertisements.

"Our company did not have any intention to convey discriminatory or racist messages," the statement posted on its Facebook page said. "What we intended to convey was that self-improvement in terms of personality, appearance, skills and professionalism is crucial."

The ad is not the first to use racial stereotypes in Thailand, where beauty is often characterised as fair and delicate. Darker skin is often associated with rural lower-class Thais, and the country has an enormous industry in skin-whitening products and cosmetic clinics to help customers emulate the porcelain complexions of the Bangkok elite.

TV adverts for skin-whitening products regularly promote the idea that white is beautiful.

In 2013, the Dunkin' Donuts franchise in Thailand used a female model in blackface make-up to promote a chocolate doughnut. The company's chief executive in Thailand initially dismissed complaints about racism, but the US parent company quickly apologised and pulled the ad.

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