Creatives weigh in on ethical boundaries of fairness ads

“Just being white wins,” said this Thai ad which has drawn the ire of the public in Thailand and made headlines globally.

An ad by Seoul Secret promoting fair skin through a pill called Snowz shows a model sharing her fear of losing her “whiteness” of skin. The ad goes to show her skin growing darker until she turns into coal like blackness.

The company has since apologised for the ad and said: “What we intended to convey was that self-improvement in terms of personality, appearance, skills, and professionalism is crucial. However, we would like to express a heartfelt apology and thank you all for the comments.”

The company has also removed the video clip, related advertisements, and other planned materials to “show responsibility in this incident.”

Take a look:

This is not the first time the Thai market has seen such backlash over similar ads. In 2013, global brand Dunkin’ Donuts faced huge criticism for featuring a woman in “black-face” makeup to promote a charcoal flavoured range of donut.

Even in Singapore, a nation which prides itself of being somewhat progressive and cosmopolitan,  saw its fair share of drama in the skincare area last year when women’s rights group AWARE Singapore slammed Nivea for its latest ad. The spot depicted a a modern day woman was caught in awkward social situations due to her dark underarms.

“Apparently having the ‘wrong’ colour of armpit makes you unfit to interact with other human beings. This is supposedly humour – but is promoting shame and insecurity about our bodies a laughing matter?” AWARE has then said in its Facebook page.

Skin colour is an issue that has plagued the region for decades with brands such as Fair & Lovely coming under intense fire over the years for embedding the value of fair being beautiful in the minds of men and women alike.

(Read also: Hong Leong Bank slammed for racial stereotyping)

In a conversation with Marketing, Robert Gaxiola, executive creative director manghamgaxiola mcgarrybowen who works on brands such as Nivea in Europe said today, it is no longer about sidestepping the problem but rather the advertising industry needs to put an end to the entire issue of fair being the only way to judge beauty.

“Using it in advertising is so inflammatory, and yet we still see it pop up year after year,” he said. Rather than avoid the sensitive areas, the advertising industry needs “be sensitive to the mistakes of the past and work a little harder to evolve” from the issue

“For me as a creative director, it’s about finding a way forward with the benefit and not showing a comparison of any kind,” he said adding:

I do not know the background behind this ad, but it makes you wonder why anybody would ask their agency to do this or sign off on it. There are so many other ways to make your product or benefit glow.

Ali Shabaz, chief creative director at Grey Singapore said that between selling a product benefit and offending people is a very thin line. Everything from a social context to sometimes even a cultural context must be weighed during communication. He added:

Whitening products are in a difficult space. But many brands have talked about the unique selling point of the product without comparing it to lack of it. Communication that talks down to people is not welcome in any category. Least of all in beauty.

Primus Nair, executive director of BBDO Singapore who previously worked on accounts such as Olay, added that when creating campaigns for products like these, its easy to overly dramatise the perceived negatives.

“In doing this we are often missing out on the emotional positives the product has to offer. It is important to remember that beauty does come in all shapes and sizes. And while we still need to be culturally relevant, we should keep that top of mind,” he added.



Rezwana Manjur
Southeast Asia Editor
Marketing Magazine Singapore
Rezwana Manjur, a true blue city girl and complete social animal, spends half her time sifting through advertising scandals, and the other half testing out brands' retail marketing strategies at the mall. She enjoys traveling and fantasising over the charming lads on hit TV show Mad Men. Most weekends, she turns nocturnal, except when brunch comes into play.

Read More News


Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.