Thai ad for skin lightening pills draws dark looks

A screengrab of the skin whitening advertisement.
A screengrab of the skin whitening advertisement.PHOTO: SEOUL SECRET/YOUTUBE

Ad for 'snowz' supplement takes flak for reinforcing racist, 'white' beauty standards

BANGKOK • A Thai company has pulled an advertisement for skin lightening pills yesterday, following an outcry on social media over a product sold with the tagline "white makes you a winner".

It is the latest marketing gaffe to draw accusations of racism in a kingdom obsessed with skin colour.

The ad for the "snowz" supplement pills, uploaded to YouTube and Facebook by Thai company Seoul Secret over the last two days, features a veteran Thai celebrity attributing her professional success to her pale complexion.

"It's not easy to stay at this point for a long time," the 35-year-old model and actress, Ms Cris Horwang, says in the video. "If I stopped taking care of my body and white complexion, all that I have invested in will be gone."

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I don't think the ad agency made this ad out of ignorance.

They haven't been living on the moon; I'm certain they knew it would be controversial...

It was most likely a calculated strategy.

KAEWMALA, a Thai culture blogger, who believes that the ad was intentionally provocative.

The model's skin then turns black, prompting an envious look at a second model with light skin, who appears by her side smiling.

"A newcomer will replace me and turn me into a dark star," Ms Cris says, using a Thai idiom to refer to her fame fading.

Whitening creams and pills are wildly popular in Thailand, where a pale complexion is upheld as the standard of beauty.

The video has received more than 100,000 views on YouTube, as well as enquiries on the company's Facebook page about how to order the product.

But other social media sites drew posts railing against the ad for being racially offensive and reinforcing the country's narrow beauty ideals.

"It indicates that dark-skinned people are losers, and this is clearly racist," a Thai commenter named Tammaijang wrote on the Web forum Pantip. Another post said: "Having dark skin can be beautiful - without being ashamed as well."

Seoul Secret could not be immediately reached for comment, but the comment section below the YouTube video was disabled yesterday morning.

A prominent Thai culture blogger called Kaewmala, on her thaiwomantalks.com website, speculated that the ad aimed to provoke. "I don't think the ad agency made this ad out of ignorance," she told AFP.

"They haven't been living on the moon; I'm certain they knew it would be controversial... It was most likely a calculated strategy, which in my view makes it even more objectionable."

While there has been growing awareness about racism among Thais in recent years, those views have yet to be reflected in a media which still readily equates dark skin with "low class", she added.

In 2013, public criticism led United States food and beverage company Dunkin' Donuts to pull an ad in Thailand that featured a woman in "black-face" make-up promoting a new charcoal-flavoured doughnut.

Thai ads for "Black Herbal" toothpaste, as well as other cosmetic brands, have also come under fire in recent years for causing racial offence.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 09, 2016, with the headline 'Thai ad for skin lightening pills draws dark looks'. Print Edition | Subscribe