After an obvious outcry from the Indian-American community, Popchips has pulled an ad featuring Ashton Kutcher who played an Indian character, "Raj,". Turns out stereotypes aren't always funny.
According to India Ink, the New York Times blog on India, Popchips declined to comment.
In the commercial, the star of Two and a Half Men plays a Bollywood producer named Raj. He talks about his dating virtues in a faux Indian accent. His face is painted brown. Popchips, a potato chip, are not mentioned at any point in the ad. The ad has been taken offline, but unofficial versions can still be found.
Indian-Americans quickly bashed the ad and Kutcher, who serves as the brand’s “president of pop culture” and who had developed the $1.5 million ad campaign with Popchips’ CEO, the ad agency Zambezi, and Alison Brod PR.
The campaign is managed by ad agency Zambezi, and featured Kutcher as different characters looking for love including, among others, a dreadlocked Brit and Raj. According to India Ink, as of May 3 in India, the “Raj” video had been deleted from Popchips YouTube channel and from the company’s Facebook page.
Thus far, the response has been part outrage and part confusion, as to why anyone would think this would be a good marketing tactic, unless the point was to create publicity for advertisement. Tech entrepreneur Anil Dash wrote:
“Right now you’re making the world worse. Not just for me, or a billion other Indian people, but for my son, who I am hoping never has to grow up with people putting on fake Indian accents in order to mock him. Maybe people won’t be familiar with that stereotype if you, yes you personally, can refrain from spending millions of dollars and countless hours of your time on perpetuating that stereotype in order to sell potato chips.”
In a later tweet after speaking to the founder of Popchips, Keith Belling, Dash tweeted: “@anildash Just got off the phone w/ the founder of @popchips, who was thoughtful, sincere, & contrite. I'm optimistic about their response.”
Das Racist weighed in on Twitter: “So, a dude who pimps sex trafficking awareness @aplusk to revive a sagging career also plays brownface characters for @popchips #america.” As of May 5, Kutcher, whose Twitter handle is @aplusk, did not respond.
As someone who thought Sh*t White Girls Say to Brown Girls was funny, the advertisement brings with it more questions about what stereotypes exist, why they persist, and what is funny and/or appropiate in today’s culture.