Popchips "culture czar" Ashton Kutcher, who owns a minority stake in the company, gets in makeup for a new ad campaign for the snack brand, creating four characters for a mock dating website ("World Wide Lovers") introductory video (watch below). The online, outdoor and social campaign is costing about $1.5 million, according to the New York Times.
It's a different kind of "minority" stake for Kutcher that's causing a stir: Donning "brownface" makeup to portray "Raj," a 39-year-old Bollywood producer, landed the actor and his partners at the brand in hot water today, with accusations of racism (including by an offended Anil Dash) roiling the social web — but the company is defending the move.
Dash, a New York based tech entrepreneur, took to his Twitter feed and blog to ask the folks involved to explain:
Dash duly received a call from the company and updated his outraged blog post to note,
"I just got off the phone with Popchips founder Keith Belling, who was sincere and contrite as he offered a thoughtful, apologetic response that indicates he understood much of what I was trying to say here. I'm cautiously optimistic to see the company's response, and willing to give them time to do it properly. Maybe we can get a good result."
A spokesperson, meanwhile, defended the campaign to the Hollywood Reporter:
"The new popchips worldwide dating video and ad campaign featuring four characters was created to provoke a few laughs and was never intended to stereotype or offend anyone," the rep wrote. "At popchips we embrace all types of shapes, flavors and colors, and appreciate all snackers, no matter their race or ethnicity. We hope people can enjoy this in the spirit it was intended."
For many, however, it's no laughing matter, and the brand has taken half-measures to address the outcry.
The World Wide Lovers URL — which points to a Facebook app called "Are you ready to play matchmaker?" — has been disabled, though the campaign is still promoted on its Facebook homepage. The company hasn't responded to comments on Facebook or Twitter. Kutcher's high-profile Twitter account has been silent on the matter since sharing the videos — which also spoof Karl Lagerfeld and Russell Brand — with his 10.5 million followers a few hours ago.
As for the videos, the standalone vignettes for Kushton's Raj and fellow characters on the brand's YouTube channel have been made private, although the main "ashton kutcher dating video," which features Raj, is still public. Watch it below and let us know what you think about the campaign and response.