Shanghai Leishang Cosmetics has said it was sorry over the controversy caused by a racist ad for one of its products. Having caused a major stir on social media it might be too little, too late.
A Chinese detergent maker apologized Saturday “for harm caused to the African people” by its ad in which a black man is “washed” by its product and transformed into a fair-skinned Asian man. The campaign attracted a great deal of attention on social media.
Shanghai Leishang Cosmetics halted the controversial ad, which had aired first on social media. The ad for Qiaobi laundry detergent shows a black man entering a room, where he attempts to seduce an Asian woman. She then feeds him a Qiaobi detergent drop and stuffs his body into a washing machine. When the cycle on the machine completes, a fair-skinned Asian man appears out of the washer – much to the delight of the woman.
The company initially defended its campaign, saying it had wanted to provoke in the first place, but didn’t expect to receive such hostile reactions.
“The foreign media might be too sensitive about the ad,” a spokesman for Shanghai Leishang Cosmetics originally said.
It later emerged, however, that the commercial was a spin-off from an Italian advertisement campaign with the opposite message, showing a white man being forced into a washing machine in a similar and a black man emerging out of it, followed by the slogan, “Colored is better.”
A half-hearted apology
The company said in a statement that it strongly condemned racial discrimination and added that it wanted to express regret over the controversy, which it says was amplified by the media.
“We express regret that the ad should have caused a controversy,” a statement issued late Saturday read.
“But we will not shun responsibility for controversial content. We express our apology for the harm caused to the African people because of the spread of the ad and the over-amplification by the media,” the company said. “We sincerely hope the public and the media will not over-read it.”
Fair skin: beautiful or internalized racism?
The controversial ad campaign was launched in March but took several weeks to become infamous around the globe. In China, it has been aired on television and in movie theaters, without much of a reaction from audiences.
The clip went viral, however, in the United States and parts of Europe, where it received harsh criticism and was widely regarded as blatantly racist.
China celebrates fair skin as a sign of beauty, as do other parts of Asia such as wide sections of India. Bleaching creams, which have been shown to be harmful to skin, are popular across Asia despite campaigns trying to raise awareness about the inherent racism in propagating such products.
Earlier in 2016, a new hashtag campaign took Twitter by storm as a growing number of Asian women in particular began to embrace their natural skin tone while rejecting the prevalent beauty standard in Asia endorsing fair skin.
#UnfairandLovely highlighted the discrimination that people face who have to work tirelessly to make their skin appear lighter.