An advertisement for a skin-whitening product in Thailand has drawn criticism on social media and sparked a debate over beauty ideals and advertising standards by claiming you "need to be white to win".

A pale complexion is highly valued in Thailand, particularly by women, and is associated with a high social status. Darker, tanned skin is associated with lower-class people who work outside in the fields. The advertisement, for a skin-whitening pill called Snowz, made by Thai brand Seoul Secret, and posted on video website YouTube, features one actress whose skin gets gradually darker next to a rival with light skin.

"You just need to be white to win," runs the tagline, which sent some social media groups into a furore. Seoul Secret and its parent company, the Yulihan Group, pulled the advertisement on 8 January.

"We may have overlooked this matter, overlooking the fact of being racist because this is something that doesn't exist in Thailand," Yulihan managing director Wattanapak Jinsirivanich said on 9 January. "We fully admit that this is our mistake.

"We were trying to convey a value in a certain group of people only. You will see that in Western countries some people view that if they become tanned others will take notice of them, to a certain extent. For people with dark skin, they tend to want their skin to glow. So it's the same for Asian people, the value in some groups is to have white skin."