In today’s world, businesses don’t always have the luxury of making mistakes and then apologizing for them – specifically when the mistake falls under the category of being “racially offensive.” Dunkin Donuts learned this the hard way when it unveiled an advertising campaign in Thailand featuring a woman in blackface makeup to promote its new chocolate flavored doughnut. After feeling the backlash from Human Rights Watch, which dubbed the ad bizarre and racist, the company’s U.S. headquarters chose to apologize for its “insensitivity” – but only after the company’s chief executive in Thailand defended the campaign and brushed off claims of racism.
Despite the fact that the ad aired only in Thailand, the strongest reactions have come from Americans – reportedly, it is common for Thai advertisements to use racial stereotypes and the Thai franchise’s sales have increased about 50% since the campaign was launched two weeks ago. Company officials attribute the increase to public curiosity about the new advertisements (1). So, this begs the questions:
- Was there really a need for an apology?
- Are the people that are complaining even Dunkin Donuts customers?
- Should Dunkin Donuts even care about the naysayers?
- Did the American headquarters add fuel to the fire by acknowledging the ad and apologizing for it?
These are questions that experienced PR professionals can answer. Unfortunately for businesses like Dunkin Donuts, hindsight is always 20/20, but there is a simple solution to avoid embarrassing, social blunders: advertisements should be run by the PR team for possible upsets to certain groups that would take it as offensive. PR professionals have the ability to compare the target markets that the company sells to and then decide based on a PR strategy whether to scratch the ad or commit to launching it. You cannot please everyone, but PR can help mitigate backlash with an appropriate measurement of what the public(s) would think and how to handle their potential reactions before the ad launches. It’s more cost effective, savvy and reputation-minded to do it that way – it’s a PR Communications Plan in play – and this is another aspect of what PR can and should do.
- Gecker, Jocelyn. “Dunkin’ Donuts Apologizes for Blackface Advert.” Miamiherald.com. The Miami Herald, 30 Aug. 2013. Web. 09 Sept. 2013. www.miamiherald.com/2013/08/30/3595820/dunkin-donuts-criticized-for-racist.html. redirect to: https://www.usatoday.com/story/money/business/2013/08/30/dunkin-donuts-thailand-ad/2748829/