Popular donut chain Dunkin’ Donuts recently came under fire for an advertisement that was released in Thailand, featuring a woman in blackface makeup sporting bright pink lips, a beehive hairdo, and holding a half eaten chocolate donut. Dunkin’ Donuts, which touted its latest charcoal donut line, was harshly criticized for its “bizarre and racist” campaign by the Human Rights Watch (HRW), one of the world’s leading independent organizations dedicated to defending and protecting human rights. Now due to pressure from the HRW — and thousands of consumers — the donut makers have issued an apology for their lack of sensitivity, according to the New York Daily News.
When Dunkin’ Donut’s charcoal ad premiered in mid-August, it created a whirlwind of controversy because it was so reminiscent of America’s stereotypical and controversial blackface minstrel caricatures (pictured below).
The HRW group, which is based in New York, were reportedly appalled by the company’s lack of sensitivity. According to the group’s deputy Asia director, Phil Robertson, who spoke to the Associated Press, “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.”
Robertson and his group took Dunkin’ Donuts to task and demanded not only an apology be issued but that they pull the plug on the campaign to boot.
Karen Raskopf, the chief communications officer for Dunkin’ Brands, told the New York Daily News the campaign for the dark chocolate donuts was indeed “insensitive”:
On behalf of our Thailand franchise and our company, we apologize for any offense it caused. We are working with our franchaisee to immediately pull the television spot and to change the campaign.
Apparently, not everyone within the Dunkin’ Donuts organization sees eye-to-eye with the company’s decision to pull the plug on the blackface campaign. Nadim Salhani, Dunkin Donut’s Thailand CEO, told the Bangkok Post, “It’s absolutely ridiculous. 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?”
Thus far, the advertisement been a success and donut sales have increased about 50 percent since the campaign premiered, and according to Salhani, “Not everybody in the world is paranoid about racism,” said the Lebanese expatriate who admitted his teenage daughter was the model featured in the campaign. He went on to tell the Bangkok Post, “I’m sorry, but this is a marketing campaign, and it’s working very well for us.”
Thailand has had its fair share of racially biased promotions in the past via the use of stereotypes. A Thai household mop and dustpan called “Black Man Wish” is depicted as a smiling Black man in a tux and bow tie (pictured below).
The country also advertises a black-colored toothpaste with a commercial that would make every hair on your body stand at attention.