Dunkin’ Donuts Ad in Thailand Causes Uproar

A new ad from the company's Thai division is raising eyebrows, and the donut chain has apologized for it on Twitter

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Grant Peck / AP

An advertisement poster of a smiling woman with bright pink lips in blackface makeup holding a doughnut is seen on a Skytrain, a commuter train in Bangkok, Thailand, Aug. 30, 2013.

A new ad from Dunkin’ Donuts’ Thai division has the American pastry-maker on the defensive and critics in America crying racism.

The Los Angeles Times and the Associated Press report that Dunkin’ Donuts Thailand recently released an advertisement for the company’s “Charcoal Donut,” which displays a young woman wearing pink lipstick and complete blackface makeup. The woman is holding up a partially eaten chocolate donut next to text that reads: “Break every rule of deliciousness.”

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In America, the marketing campaign immediately drew outrage from both human rights organizations and average citizens. “WOW Racist @DunkinDonuts campaign,” wrote one twitter user.  “What is wrong with people.” Representatives from Human Rights Watch were equally critical. Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director for the group, called the ad offensive and demanded that Dunkin’ Donuts apologize.

“It’s both bizarre and racist that Dunkin’ Donuts thinks that it must color a woman’s skin black and accentuate her lips with bright pink lipstick to sell a chocolate doughnut,” Phil Robertson told the AP. “Dunkin’ Donuts should immediately withdraw this ad, publicly apologize to those it’s offended and ensure this never happens again.”

The American headquarters of Dunkin’ Donuts has taken Robertson’s request to heart. The company responded to the scandal through its official twitter account, stating:

However, at least in the campaign’s intended market, the ad appears to be a smash hit. Nadim Salhani, CEO of Dunkin’ Donuts Thailand told the AP that donut sales have gone up 50% since the ad launched — an increase he credits to interest in the company’s new marketing. The CEO was also unapologetic, insisting that criticism of the ad was merely “paranoid American thinking.  “I’m sorry,” said Salhani, “but this is a marketing campaign, and it’s working very well for us.”

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“Charcoal Donut” is certainly not the first Thai ad to be called racist. The country has been home to a brand of mops called “Black Man,” featuring the titular character in a tuxedo as its logo. Another Thai product — a skin whitening cream — advertises that lighter skinned people are more attractive to employers, and a black herbal toothpaste maker has run television commercials with the tagline “Appearance can be deceiving.” Another ad by the same company stated, “It’s black, but it’s good.”

The cultural insensitivity extends even beyond race. In July, students at Chulalongkorn University apologized for a banner that placed Adolf Hitler in between superheroes like Batman and Captain America. The schools dean removed the banner, explaining that “Hitler was supposed to serve as a conceptual paradox to the superheroes.” Hitler was also prominently featured on a billboard for one of the nation’s wax museums.

Despite these examples, Human Rights Watch reports that offensive advertising in Thailand is in a gradual decline. As Robertson told the Los Angeles Times, this donut ad is a relic of an earlier era. The broad trend has been to move away from this kind of racist type advertising,” explained Robertson. “Unfortunately, this advertisement seems to be a bit of a throwback.”

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