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According to a report in the UK paper the Guardian Dunkin’ Donuts has apologised after it ran an advertisement in Thailand featuring a woman in “blackface” make-up. The advert, which was used to promote the donut giant’s “charcoal donut”, was called “bizarre and racist” by a leading human rights group.
Dunkin’ Donuts chief executive in Thailand defended the campaign, but a spokesman for Dunkin’ Brands told the Guardian on Friday it would immediately pull a planned television spot featuring the imagery.
“Dunkin’ Donuts recognizes the insensitivity of this spot and on behalf of our Thailand franchisee and our company, we apologize for any offense it caused,” Karen Raskopf, chief communications officer for Dunkin’ Brands, said in a statement provided to the Guardian. “We are working with our franchisee to immediately pull the television spot and to change the campaign.”
The Thai arm of Dunkin’ Donuts had planned a poster and television campaign around the image, which it shared on Facebook. The advert shows a woman apparently wearing dark make-up and bright pink lipstick, with a 1950s beehive hairstyle. She is holding a “charcoal donut”, out of which a bite has been taken. The slogan next to the image reads: “Break every rule of deliciousness.”
The advert caused consternation on Friday morning, after Human Rights Watch said it would cause “howls of outrage” if it ran in the US.
“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,” said Phil Robertson, the deputy Asia director for HRW. “Dunkin’ Donuts should immediately withdraw this ad, publicly apologize to those it’s offended and ensure this never happens again.”
The CEO for Dunkin’ Donuts in Thailand, which is operated as a franchise, was initially bullish about the marketing. “It’s absolutely ridiculous,” said Nadim Salhani. “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?”
Salhani said his daughter was the model used in the advert. He dismissed criticism as “paranoid American thinking”, saying: “I’m sorry, but this is a marketing campaign and it’s working very well for us.”
The Associated Press reported that the advert had not “ruffled many in Thailand, where it’s common for advertisements to inexplicably use racial stereotypes”. The news agency said a herbal Thai toothpaste was available with the tagline “it’s black, but it’s good”, while advertising for the Black Man brand of household mops showed a “smiling black man in a tuxedo and bow tie”.
The Associated Press contributed to this report