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Dunkin’ Donuts Didn’t Look So Great in Blackface

Well, then: welcome back to the grind. We hope your hangover isn’t too harsh—and if it is you can just chug some Pedialyte.

So what happened over the long weekend? To start it all off, Dunkin’ Donuts hung its head and apologized for August’s biggest facepalm moment, a “bizarre and racist” ad starring an actress in blackface. This story makes a little more sense when you consider the fact that the spot ran in Thaliand, where CEOs and creative departments are all apparently a little loopy (and racist).

Nice hair, though.

The head of Dunkin’s Thailand operations thought it would be a great idea to celebrate the release of a new chocolate “charcoal donut” (which sounds disgusting, by the way) by creating an ad that starred his own daughter as…a black woman. We think.

The Asia division of nonprofit advocacy group Human Rights Watch immediately called for Dunkin’ to put a kibbosh on the troubling spot, telling the Los Angeles Times that it “fits into a long history of racist advertisements in Southeast Asia” and wondering how an ad as terribly conceived as this one could be cleared to promote an international company with a vested interest in not looking like a bunch of know-nothing colonialists. The Associated Press noted that skin tone is a big deal in Thai advertising, with one whitening cream selling the idea “that white-skinned people have better job prospects than those with dark skin” and a toothpaste brand assuring consumers that its darker product “is black, but it’s good”. Now we’re even more confused about Dunkin’.

Our favorite part of the story is the executive’s response to the inevitable uproar, which he attributed to “paranoid American thinking” while asking reporters “What if the product was white and I painted someone white, would that be racist?” Well, no—and the ad apparently didn’t “ruffle any feathers” in Thailand because consumers there are used to this kind of exploitative marketing, but we have a feeling the exec isn’t familiar with the minstrel tradition in this country.

Thankfully, Dunkin Brands’ communications department has a little more sense than its international C-suite. Comms head Karen Raskopf issued a statement to media outlets reading:

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. We are working with our franchisee to immediately pull the television spot and to change the campaign.

Good save, we guess. The incident is interesting for offering a peek into the ways other societies view race relations and the PR implications of related content. We probably shouldn’t be surprised that Dunkin’s Thai CEO doesn’t understand why his everyone in America hated on his campaign—it’s not like American ad execs haven’t been racially aloof at times. In fact, Roger Sterling may have some thoughts on the matter…

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