Skin-whitening advert claiming that ‘white makes you a winner’ sets off race storm in Thailand


BANGKOK–A Thai advert for skin lightening pills with the tagline “white makes you a winner” has caused an outcry on social media, in the latest marketing ploy tapping into the kingdom’s obsession with skin color. The advertisement 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, Cris Horwang, says in the video.

“If I stopped taking care of my body and white complexion, all that I have invested will be gone.”

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,” 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 in the media and among many Thais.

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 advert for being racially offensive and reinforcing the country’s narrow beauty ideals.

“It indicates that dark skin 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 Friday morning.

A prominent Thai culture blogger called Kaewmala on her website speculated that the advert 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 a 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 the US firm Dunkin’ Donuts to pull an advertisement in Thailand that featured a woman in “black-face” makeup promoting a new charcoal-flavoured donut. Thai adverts for “Black Herbal” toothpaste, as well as other cosmetic brands, have come under fire in recent years for causing racial offence.