CityNews – After what looked to most people in Thailand to be a “discriminative” advertising campaign by Thai cosmetics brand Citra – owned by Anglo-Dutch consumer goods company Unilever – the campaign quickly came under fire by the Thai media and public.
The star of the ad
AFP reported this week that in an effort to assuage public concern “Unilever apologized Wednesday for a controversial competition for students to promote its skin whitening product, saying it did not intend ‘racial discrimination’.”
The campaign, Citra 3D Brightening Girls Search, offered prizes to female university students of up to 100,000 baht if they sent in their photo holding the now partly sullied product. Public disapproval ensued, with most critics saying that the company had gone too far in linking whiteness with education, and offering money to the brightest girls – in terms of skin pigments, not brain chemicals or natural choices.
The scholarship it seemed was only offered to girls endowed with pale skin, while darker skinned girls were persona non grata. Critics have said that this is just one more example of discrimination against dark skinned people in Thailand.
A spokesperson for Unilever said that they apologize for their insensitivity, and will makes changes immediately to the current campaign.
On the same day as the AFP report the Bangkok Post ran an article in which the aforementioned apology by a spokesperson from Unilever read more like a denial from another spokesperson. In this report the spokesperson said, “Our company has good consumer responsibility standards … We welcome all opinions and comments, but we are sincere and do not have any intention to have skin discrimination.”
Whitening campaigns and discriminative ads seem to be a mainstay in the Thai media, in spite of coming under heavy criticism by many Thai netizens. Only in September did Dunkin’ Donuts pull an advertisement in Thailand after members of the public and human rights groups said it was racist. CityNews has also published numerous opinion editorials on the matter of whiteness and discrimination.