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Is 'Blackface' Ever Okay?
By: Dwayne W. Waite Jr.
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We were wondering when race would pop up in advertising news again. It has been a quiet couple of weeks.

Dunkin' Donuts in Thailand has recently been under scrutiny for using blackface in the latest campaign for its charcoal donut. The Thailand CEO defended the ad, while Dunkin' HQ in the U.S. jumped up and apologized and assured all who are paying attention that it is in talks with Thailand to get the ad pulled.



But why did Thailand's DD think it was fine in the first place?

It's all about culture.

As we all know in the U.S., race is an extremely sensitive topic. Bring it up in a conversation, and it almost immediately gets awkward. It is a conversation that needs to occur, but all the boys and girls in the room are afraid to have it.

About blackface: The AP reported this DD incident and commented on how critics believe the blackface reminds the world of the American stereotypes of African-Americans during the 19th and 20th centuries. The critics are right, but to a point. Blackface was also offensive because they painted a white person black rather than having actual black person do the job, or take the role. There's the offense, with the stereotype being a simple by-product.

But around the world, racism and prejudice abound in realms we could only dream about. 

Are we accepting Thailand DD's use of blackface? No. But we should examine to see where they are coming from. Yes, in our eyes it's very off-color, but that's why we don't see it in the States. According to another report, profits for the store actually rose 50 percent. Is that solely due to the campaign? Probably not, but it shouldn't be counted out. Plus, according to the AP, racially themed ad campaigns are actually quite common.

No matter what we try to do, not every market is going to share the values, norms, and morals that we have. We're not saying that it's okay, but it's a reality. There are many pieces of advertising, propaganda, and public information that would make the U.S.-based Human Rights Watch head spin.

The market can decide what ads are seen by responding to them. According to Thailand, that market has a certain taste that is different than ours. Who are we to criticize them?


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About the Author
Dwayne W. Waite Jr. is partner and principal at JDW: The Charlotte Agency, a marketing and advertising shop in Charlotte, NC. He enjoys consumer behavior, economics, and football.
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