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Dunkin' chocolate doughnut ad -- is it racist?

An advertisement poster of a smiling woman with bright pink lips in blackface makeup holding a doughnut is seen on a Skytrain, a commuter train in Ban...
An advertisement of a woman with bright pink lips in blackface makeup holding a doughnut is seen on a commuter train in Bangkok, Thailand, Aug. 30, 2013. A human rights group has called on Dunkin' Donuts to withdraw theGrant Peck / AP

A human rights group blasted an ad for Dunkin' Donuts chocolate doughnuts in Thailand, branding as racist the spot that features a smiling woman with bright pink lips and a face painted black. 

On Friday, the company apologized and said it was working with its franchise in Thailand to pull the ad campaign.

The head of the chain's Thai franchise, which operates independently from the U.S.-based Dunkin' Donuts, had dismissed the criticism as "paranoid American thinking."

The franchise in Thailand launched a campaign this month for its new "Charcoal Donut" featuring the image, which is reminiscent of 19th and early 20th century American stereotypes for black people that are now considered offensive. 

In posters and TV commercials, the campaign shows the woman with a shiny jet black, 1950s-style beehive hairdo, holding a bitten black doughnut alongside the slogan: "Break every rule of deliciousness." 

Human Rights Watch said it was shocked to see an American brand name running an advertising campaign that would draw "howls of outrage" if released in the United States. 

"It's both bizarre and racist that Dunkin' Donuts thinks that it must color a woman's skin black and accentuate her lips with bright pink lipstick to sell a chocolate doughnut," said Phil Robertson, the deputy Asia director for Human Rights Watch. "Dunkin' Donuts should immediately withdraw this ad, publicly apologize to those it's offended and ensure this never happens again." 

The campaign hasn't ruffled many in Thailand, where it's common for advertisements to use racial stereotypes. A Thai brand of household mops and dustpans called "Black Man" uses a logo with a smiling black man in a tuxedo and bow tie. One Thai skin whitening cream runs TV commercials that say white-skinned people have better job prospects than those with dark skin. An herbal Thai toothpaste says its dark-colored product "is black, but it's good." 

In New York, a spokeswoman for the Dunkin' Donuts said the company "recognizes the insensitivity of this spot and on behalf of our Thailand franchisee and our company, we apologize for any offense it caused.

"We are working with our franchisee to immediately pull the television spot and to change the campaign," Karen Raskopf, Chief Communications Officer for Dunkin' Brands, said in a statement e-mailed to

Earlier, however, the man behind the campaign in Thailand dismissed the criticism as "paranoid American thinking." 

"It's absolutely ridiculous," said Nadim Salhani. CEO of the local Dunkin' Donuts franchise. "We're not allowed to use black to promote our doughnuts? I don't get it. What's the big fuss? What if the product was white and I painted someone white, would that be racist?" 

Salhani said the Thai franchise of Dunkin' Donuts operates independently from the U.S. operation and that doughnut sales have increased about 50 percent since the campaign was launched about two weeks ago, which he attributed to curiosity about the new advertisements. 

"Not everybody in the world is paranoid about racism," said Salhani, a Lebanese expatriate in Thailand who said his teenage daughter was the model featured in the campaign. "I'm sorry, but this is a marketing campaign, and it's working very well for us."