‘Racist’ Ad for Seoul Secret Skin Whitening Pulled in Thailand

Reigniting the debate about skin color in Thailand, a Thai cosmetics firm has withdrawn its video featuring a model wearing blackface to promote a skin-whitener with the slogan: “If I was white, I would win”.

Seoul Secret, Thai-based maker of the whitening product called “Snowz”, issued a “heartfelt apology”, saying it had not meant to offend.

‘They’re saying that being dark is ugly. It’s a narrow-minded and disgusting attitude.’


The advert and ensuing controversy has made international headlines while reignited an ongoing debate in Thailand about long-held attitudes regarding skin color. Any trip down a cosmetic store aisle will show an abundance of skin-whitening products.

In the Thai language advert, actress Cris Horwang says:

“If I stopped looking after myself, everything that I have worked for — all the investment I have made to keep myself white — would disappear. New stars would replace me, I would fade away.”


Her skin turns almost black, and to beside her there appears a model with white skin. Horwang looks down in seeming dismay and says: “If I was white, I would win”.

Here is the video –no subtitles available.

Seoul Secret quickly withdrew the advert, but it has remained available on different channels on YouTube.

Seoul Secret also issued an apology on Facebook:

“Our company did not have any intention to convey discriminatory or racist messages.”

“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. Currently, we have removed the video clip, related advertisements, and other planned materials to show our responsibility in this incident.”

Wattanapak Jinsirivanich, managing director of Yulihan Group (Thailand), the company that produces Seoul Secret beauty products, offered his personal apology and said the intention was not to create controversy.

“We did not intend to create this issue. We would like to apologize and we will fix it. Our message is to take good care of yourself and continue to do so.”

Backlash ensues

In Thailand, darker skin is often associated with rural lower-class Thais and considered unattractive.

Cosmetic retailers stock a wide variety of skin-whitening products and clinics offer cosmetic procedures to help people emulate the white complexions associated with that of the Bangkok elite.

‘This ad is so obviously racist and another attempt to brainwash Thai women,’ Jutamas, a Bangkok-based office worker, told AP.

‘They’re saying that being dark is ugly. It’s a narrow-minded and disgusting attitude.’

“This is not a problem that is unique to Thailand. It’s a problem that exists all over the world,” social critic Lakkana Punwichai told the BBC.

“The issue also underlines the issue of class in Thailand, where those with darker skin are viewed as the poor from the rural north-east. We look down on them, on Cambodians, and Indians with darker complexions.

“However, attitudes are changing as Thai elites start to look down on women who long to be white, the same way some westerners look down on “blonde bimbos”,” she said.

Back in Black?

Thailand is no stranger to blackface controversy. Like this Dunkin Donuts campaign for the “Charcoal Donut” back in 2013.

Dunkin Donuts Blackface Thailand


Dunkin Donuts corporate headquarters in the United States apologized for the ad, but Nadim Salhani, head of the Thai arm of the franchise, defended it.

“We’re not allowed to use black to promote our doughnuts? I don’t get it. What’s the big fuss? What if the product was white and I painted someone white, would that be racist?”