Mall’s Chinese New Year ad has an eye for the politically incorrect

UPDATED: CPN apologizes, pulls ‘controversial’ Chinese New Year ad


Fashion is expected to provoke, but in Thailand it’s the marketing which often crosses the line.

Today it’s a little eye-stretching incident which has some people rolling their’s – or worse – complaining of racial insensitivity.

On the first day of the Chinese New Year, megamall operator Central Pattana (CPN), a subsidiary of Central Group, finds itself on the defense over what some see as a racially charged ad depicting a female Caucasian model with a classic, Chinese-style appearance.

Perhaps the model was trying to remove some of her abundant makeup or massage a headache. However many people saw an unmistakable gesture associated with racism in the advertisement running widely throughout Bangkok media.

On a Facebook post discussing the issue headed “Damn Thailand, don’t you know that’s racist?!” comments ranged from “This is wrong in so many ways,” to “Hahahaha. Funny.”

While the gesture isn’t familiar to Thais or most Asians, it’s considered extremely offensive in the West as a sort of old-fashioned expression of racism. So at Central malls – often frequented by tourists and foreign residents – the ads have been drawing a lot of glares and complaints.

Representative from CPN said they were aware of the issue but unable to respond to questions by publication time.

In an article titled “Thai Advertisers Show Dubious Cultural Awareness Once Again,” BK Magazine yesterday said the ad – which ironically enough runs in full-color print on page seven of its current issue – reflects Thai advertisers’ “serious problem with understanding the rules of political correctness and cultural sensitivity.”

Although the campaign is meant to promote how “good” it is to be Chinese, as the caption says, Central uses a Caucasian model, which is kind of the norm for their campaigns. 

It’s not uncommon to find white folks fronting brands and products in Thailand, as there’s an assumption that Thais automatically make a “premium” association by having a Caucasian presenter.

CPN must have missed the recent lessons learned by brands such as Dunkin’ Donuts and Vogue, whose blackface donut commercial and skin-lightened Naomi Campbell cover drew complaints of racial insensitivity.

The ads were a part of CPN’s promotional campaign “Good to be Chinese” which offers shoppers a chance to win a free trip to Hong Kong and other juicy rewards.


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