"The ad left a bad taste in the mouth overall."
Last week’s GlutaMAX advertising campaign was another discriminatory flop that came on the heels of SkinWhite’s recent foray into brownface.
The ad showed a morena beauty on the left looking daggers at a pale-skinned model on the right, with ad copy in variations on the same theme.
Copy on a billboard said, “Maputi lang, favorite na ni boss? Unfair, di ‘ba? ‘Wag magalit, mag-GlutaMAX!”
An online ad said, “Maputi lang, maganda na? Unfair, ‘di ba?” with the caption, “Sa sobrang puti ng friend ko, lagi siyang napagkakamalang artista. Daming nagpapa-picture. And dahil morena ako, taga-picture lang ako. #Unfair diba—Cindy”
Another online ad was captioned: “Nakakainis ba ‘pag may unfair treatment tuwing nagco-commute? ‘Wag magalit, mag GlutaMAX. #YourFairAdvantage.” The ad copy said: “Maputi lang, pinaupo na sa bus? 3 in 5 Filipinos believe that people with fair skin receive better treatment from others * *Based on a poll by Opeepl.”
The majority of netizens reacted against the ad. Comments in favor seemed written by trolls (a tactic also employed by SkinWhite after their own ad fiasco).
Celebrity Bianca Gonzalez tweeted, “Just a note from a Filipina with brown skin since birth: There is no problem AT ALL sa mga gustong magpaputi. The problem is when whitening brands make us look ‘kaawa awa’ dahil lang maitim kami. Kasi, hindi po kami kawawa, maganda ang kulay namin.”
She also said she “grew up loving her brown skin because of beautiful women like Angel Aquino and Tweety de Leon who proudly flaunted their brown skin. I looked up to them. I did not need to compare myself to fair skinned girls. It need not be a ‘battle’ of maitim versus maputi.”
If SkinWhite used brownface, GlutaMAX’s strategy was to play up people’s insecurities stemming from the colonial experience that normalized colorism, or valuing one skin color above others.
This is not about people’s choice to use whitening products. The problem was the ad’s language and conceptualization. The word ‘unfair’ appeared again and again, attempting to establish a mindset of victimhood through repetition. The rest of their copy was no better.
“Maputi lang, favorite na ni boss?” That’s like condoning a sexual harassment situation. Patriarchal much?
“And dahil morena ako, taga-picture lang ako,” and “Maputi lang, pinaupo na sa bus?” That’s concocting an issue.
“Sa sobrang puti ng friend ko, lagi siyang napagkakamalang artista. Daming nagpapa-picture.” I’ve never seen anyone ask for someone else’s photo merely because they had fair skin. These words also erase the many golden- and mahogany-skinned Filipino actors. Actress Chai Fonacier tweeted, “No, GlutaMax. Here’s me raising my middle finger at you: I’m alright with my brown #KutisPinas and I’m still in the showbiz industry, you uneducated potato.”
And after manufacturing all this conflict, GlutaMAX touted their whitening products as the solution to endemic colorism—“#YourFairAdvantage.”
The ad left a bad taste in the mouth overall because not only did the company reinforce negative cultural attitudes to profit from them, it also assumed the public to be stupid and unable to see through their ploy.
Commenter Angie Claire advised the company to “come up with an intelligent campaign that matches the intelligence of your consumers and potential customers. Never underestimate your market's ability to think and spot discrimination when they see [it].”
The ad wasn’t even supposed to run in the first place. According to Ad Standards Council Executive Director Digna Dator Santos, "(T)he ASC has disapproved the Glutamax ad several times. Unfortunately, the client and agency decided to still post/display the ad despite the disapproval which is a gross violation of ASC rules. The matter will be referred to the ASC Technical Committee for appropriate action."
GlutaMAX deleted the controversial ads from their Facebook page, but they remained tone-deaf, saying in an official statement: “We acknowledge all sentiments that have been directed towards our campaign. GlutaMAX respects the dignity of the Filipino and our aim is to provide products that empower rather than discriminate.
“Biases continue to be held by society, and many Filipinos experience it firsthand. This is a truth that exists. The brand agrees that all skin tones are beautiful, and at the same time, believes that everyone is entitled to choose what empowers them.”
Empowerment does not come from products that profit from people’s fears and insecurities about their identity. True empowerment comes from destroying systemic ills and replacing them with positive attitudes that will benefit everyone in society.
The backlash against GlutaMAX was intense and the resulting damage to the brand was real. Commenter Luna said, “Let them experience the boycott. I wanna feel my power. Bring it on. The choice to NOT BUY.”
After stubbornly digging in their heels for longer than was good for them, GlutaMAX released an apology on Monday: “As we've learned, talking about skin is never a skin-deep issue. [It’s] a minefield of sensitivities, of deeply held beliefs, and should never be taken lightly.
“And yet, over the weekend, we've caused a disproportionate amount of discomfort. And even pain. That said, we believe that the best intentions are never an excuse for causing harm. And for all those that we've offended over the past few days, we offer our sincerest apologies.”
‘Wag magalit, GlutaMAX, but that’s too little, too late.
This is one of the worst communication campaigns ever. It’s a case study of ‘what not to do.’ / FB and Twitter: @DrJennyO