It’s hard to imagine anything more blatant than this.
A new Thai beauty ad claiming white skin is the key to success has unleashed a storm of criticism in Thailand, especially online, where people complain the ad perpetuates damaging, racist ideas.
“Just being white, you will win,” says Cris Horwang, a smiling pale-skinned actress, in the 30-second spot by Seoul Secret, a Thai beauty company.
Without the advertised pill, “the whiteness I have invested in, will just vanish,” she warns.
Next to her, another actress looks despondent as her skin is digitally altered to turn black.
Horwang promises that the product, called Snowz, “will help you not to return to being dark.”
“Eternally white, I am confident,” she adds.
On Friday evening, Seoul Secret pulled the video from its online platforms and issued a statement.
“(We) would like to apologize for the mistake and claim full responsibility for this incident. Our company did not have any intention to convey discriminatory or racist messages,” it said.
“What we intended to convey was that self-improvement in terms of personality, appearance, skills, and professionality (sic) is crucial.”
Skin whitening products are popular in many Asian countries including Thailand.
Yet that didn’t stop viewers from reacting with repulsion.
“I think it’s really ugly — I couldn’t believe this kind of ad is still coming out in Thailand,” Yukti Mukdawijitra, a professor of sociology and anthropology at Thailand’s Thammasat University, told CNN.
Mukdawijitra said the ad reflected a pattern of racism that’s existed in Thailand for “centuries,” in which lighter-colored skin has been seen as a marker of privilege and status within the multi-ethnic society.
But this has been compounded by the influence of the West.
“Thai society wants to be a part of international society, so ideas of beauty are transferred from the West to Thailand as well.
“Those who look Western, those who are white, those who have bodies that look like Westerners’, become preferable — in a way, people in Thailand internalize a colonial attitude into themselves.”
More than a harmless aesthetic preference, this kind of thinking exacerbates social inequality, he said.
“It’s fine that you prefer white colors, but it doesn’t makes sense to prefer being white.”
Online, commenters echoed the indignation.
“I have finished watching it. It is not ok,” read a comment on a Pantip, a popular Thai internet forum. “They forced us to suck this twisted logic. Created the wrong value. Promoted the madness in being white.”
This isn’t the first time a Thai ad has drawn accusations of racism.
In 2013, a Dunkin Donuts ad campaign in Bangkok’s train system showed a woman with her face painted black with the slogan ‘Break every rule of deliciousness.” The company later apologized.
That same year, ads for a skin-whitening cream by Unilever suggested the company would offer university scholarships to students with fairer skin.
The ads sparked a wide debate about skin color, and the company said it hadn’t meant to “suggest racial discrimination,” while apologizing for any “misunderstandings.”
CNN’s Kocha Olarn contributed reporting from Bangkok.