In the past decade, Thailand has applied its negative views against people of color, into the advertising and marketing industry. The reasoning behind Thailand’s dislike towards darker skin comes from a long history that leads back to hundreds of years. Thailand’s ethnic minorities such as the hill tribes, have been subjected to harsh treatment for a long time. The 1 million hill tribes that live in thailand used to be viewed as inferior to the society, but this was not always the case. In earlier times, they were seen as trading partners and ordinary people, as they had a stable relationship between the hills and the valleys. Dating back to the late 1960’s and early 1970’s, the arrival of the Vietnamese migrants during the Vietnam war changed that relationship. They were then seen as the enemies of the country, resulting in also changing the way the valley people see the hill tribes, which was based on the way they looked and their line of work. This is where the idea of “dark skin, equates to outdoor labor and lower classes” comes in. Thailand shares this skin tone bias with many Asian countries including Korea, Laos, and China. Since the majority of Thai people have never traditionally met a person of African descent, it is believed that the prejudice and stereotypes of dark skinned people come from the western films.
Advertising Ethics in the Industry
In Thailand, there are no official laws that ban racial discrimination, whether it’s portrayed on a magazine or a billboard. However, there are a few ethics in the advertising and marketing industry that relate to the moral judgment advertisers have to make when creating controversial advertisements. According to the ethical standards that must be followed when printing a newspaper, are that they must be fully truthful and beneficial to the public. The general rules for all types of media include, applying standards of fairness or moral rights and wrongs to marketing decision making. In an interview with Sabine Joukes, a perspective of a worker in the advertising and marketing industry is given. Sabine Joukes is the mother of a student in Prem International School who currently works for Bates Advertising in Myanmar. Her career started in the industry when she first studied marketing and communications years ago. In this interview, she discusses some of the ways in which a product is promoted, and exactly what issues can stand in the way of creating an advertisement. So when a product is being promoted, it’s crucial to know your target audience and what goes on in their mind. Now Thailand’s main target audience is people who are from Thailand and already have fair skin. However, the issue in this case is that advertisers only thought about the Thai people, rather than considering how it could affect tourists that visit from around the world. At Sabines company in Myanmar, their current marketing approach includes using social media which happens to be todays most effect method.
The Downside of Racist Advertisement
Looking into some of the reasons as to why including racism in an advert/commercial spot is wrong, along with it, comes a lot of backlash to many different aspects. The first of which involves the rates of tourism that will affect Thailand and other Southeast Asian countries. Tourism contributes twelve trillion Baht each year annually to Thailand’s economy. However, the promotion of advertisements that deliberately target people of color, only affects the industry and Thailand negatively in the end. The issue with this may relate to the fact that Thailand’s main tourist come from countries such as China making up 25% of the tourist, and others such as Russia and South Korea, as these are not countries with a large amount of people with darker skin tones. Racist advertisements can be a legal issue as well, in cases where it targets a specific person or group. An example of this would be putting out an ad that only wants white employees for a job, and this specific example is something that relates to an incident that occured in Bangkok,Thailand. For a brief time, a poster that advertised a skin whitening drink was hung up on the Bangkok skytrain that read ” Reserved seats for white/light- skinned persons only”. In a possibility of this occurring in a western country, the owners/creators of the advertisement in this case could be therefore sued for their discrimination and racism of dark skinned persons. Another issue racist advertisements/commercial spots can bring up is the non-inclusivity that is involved. This issue has recently been shifted once Thailand launched a new global campaign to promote country’s diversities, with the caption being “Open to the new shades”.
The Psychological Reasoning behind Racist Advertising
With all the negative effects racist advertising can put on an industry and a country, it is said by some researchers that specific types of ads can bring out more attention from audiences. In this case, the type of ad is known as “shock advertising”, which generally, uses content that deliberately either frightens or disturbs an audience. A recent BBC article discusses the question on whether or not advertisement are intentionally being racist. A source from BBC has stated that, it’s an extremely competitive industry especially today, therefore people are doing whatever they can to gain attention for their brand. Advertisers using racism as a technique in order to grab people’s attention and gain more views on the internet, is one way to do it. But next comes the question that revolves around the ethical choices that advertisers are making in the process. In this case, advertisers are only doing what is best for their company, rather than doing something for the greater good, which should be the clients. In the end, this only helps raise awareness to the company creating the advertisement, rather than to the target audience of the advertisement.
The industry of marketing and advertising is rapidly growing each year as it forecasted to spend up to $556 billion dollars this year alone. So, with that come a lot of tactics companies have to use to have their campaign outshine others. As racism in advertisements come in hand with “shock advertising”, researchers have found their to be a psychological study behind the reasoning of using shock. To define exactly what shock advertising is, would be when advertisers offend and violate a specific person or group, based on culture and values. Results have shown that with norm violations, the type of shock that had been the most significant was moral offensiveness. What this depicts is that the use of shock advertising can bring out stronger emotions from the audience, which could either lead to positive feeling towards the product, or negative ones which then result in the campaign becoming viral. So, when the controversial campaign for a product is released, it gains more attention from the audiences as it will be more likely to be remembered by the consumers.
The Major Dilemma
In order for an advertising campaign to be seen as ” morally/ethically responsible”, it must be able to not discriminate and target a specific group negatively. What has been proven in recent years is that, Thailand along some of the other southeast asian countries have not thought their campaigns through in an ethical way. Advertising on the media, has become the most powerful tool in the marketing world to this day. However, ensuring that advertisers are being ethical and morally correct in the creation process of a campaign, might come across as one of the industry’s major dilemmas. What these companies have to consider in the making of an advertisement is the importance of knowing what your consumers want. Looking at this from the point of view of countries such as China, Korea and Thailand, the thought process might have been different with the racist advertisements only because of the target audiences in those countries. These places don’t necessarily have a huge number of people with african ethnicities, but knowing that these countries have a vast growing rate of tourism, should be enough for advertisers to realise that using racism may not be the greatest idea. In conclusion, to decide what the best possible outcomes in situations like these could be, is to look at it from both sides. As skin whitening products are a $18 billion dollar business in Asia, selling them to consumers that actually want the product isn’t the wrong thing to do. What is wrong however, is selling them in ways where it is degrading people who do have dark skin, and convincing your consumers that without the product you would be unattractive and considered substandard.
Possible Solutions to the Ethical Dilemma
When exploring different ways Thailand and Southeast Asia can be more aware of their racist advertisements, the options are ones that are possible but difficult to achieve. Thailand as well as the rest of SouthEast Asia has its own ideal beauty type, which includes having the perfect nose, perfect body and of course the white skin. Products including chemicals that perhaps lighten the skin should be fine to advertise in magazines and billboards around Thailand. However, as tourism is one of their biggest industries, something Thailand needs to consider is the diverse people coming into the country every year. These diverse people coming in from the United States and Europe are one of the main contributors to the tourism industry, therefore considering dismissing the degradation of dark skinned people in advertisements, is something that needs to be done.
In conclusion, the issue of having to control and monitor racist advertisements in Thailand is one that has solutions, but will take years to achieve. The history behind the adoration of light skin has evolved from a long history that leads all the way back to the 1960’s. Since then, it has formed the idea into peoples minds, that light skin represents beauty and success. The issue that has evolved over the last ten years, is advertisers beginning to incorporate racism into their campaigns by degrading people with darker skin tones. The wrongs that come with this issue is the possible affect it could have among the tourism industry which leads to a decrease in diverse tourists. Another major issue with racism in advertising, is the morality of the decision companies are choosing to make. Thailand is beginning to make slow steps that are leading to the openness of diversity. A new campaign produced by BBDO Bangkok named “Open to new shades”, highlights the importance of diverse travellers coming in to thailand to experience the beauty and uniqueness of the country. This video is a step forward in the right direction, as it allows foreigners to be aware of the inclusion Thailand is beginning to offer.