This "Wanna Be White" Campaign is Troubling

by Erin Mayer

Unfortunately, the beauty industry's main goal is to keep us dissatisfied with how we look so that we keep buying products to "improve" ourselves. Korean cosmetics brand ElishaCoy's "Wanna Be White" campaign just takes this concept too far.

Skin whitening is not new or particularly rare. In January I reported on Nigerian pop-singer Dencia's Whitenicious, a line of skin whitening cosmetics that sold out in two days. There are, in fact, safe and healthy ways to lighten your skin in the event of acne or other scars, but this is a whole different ballgame. Plus now, it seems, the skin whitening craze is hitting closer to home — New York City, in fact. The ElishaCoy "Wanna Be White" ad, which is for a product called "Always Nuddy CC Cream," is currently being displayed at the New Koreatown Plaza in Flushing, Queens.

The ad features a lovely Korean woman gazing out at the viewer all doe-eyed with the phrase "Do you wanna be white?" emblazoned across the top. Yup, it's that subtle. As Hannah Ongley from Jezebel points out, this ad is a huge no-no and isn't likely to win the brand many favors here in the United States:

Maybe the advertising team forgot that this ad was scheduled to run in America where minorities are hyper-aware of race, colorism (even if they don’t know that word specifically, they know how it feels to be discriminated based upon skin color) and kind of like being their own ethnicity. Or maybe Elisha Coy's international marketing team hoped that consumers would care more about aspirational pale skin tones than a message implicitly telling them that their natural skin color just isn't enough?

The objective of the "Wanna Be White" message is painfully clear: your Korean skin is not good enough, here's a product to help you adhere to Western beauty ideals which are obviously better. The sentiment is only reinforced by the blunt nature of the ad copy, which doesn't even bother to sugarcoat or disguise the message. This type of advertising is painfully manipulative and cruel.

Korean website Noonchi puts it best:

[W]e all know that Koreans have long prized pale skin, but seeing that fixation exploited by ad copy feels not only manipulative, but actually insidious. In some ways, then, ElishaCoy has in fact created a perfect advertisement—it sells an impossible dream while also making its potential consumers feel worse about themselves.

Well I guess that's one way to move product. ElishaCoy, I think you can do better next time.