brands under fire

Popchips Minority Owner Ashton Kutcher in Trouble for Minority Portrayal

Posted by Shirley Brady on May 2, 2012 08:27 PM

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.


Dan Gee United States says:

Any kind of "____face" ethnic portrayal is bound to offend, as the popchips team, agency, PR & Kutcher should have realized.

That said, did Jon Hamm get this much criticism for his recent "blackface" character on the "30 Rock" live show? This also reminds me of the criticism heaped on Mike Myers for his "Love Guru" character.

May 2, 2012 09:35 PM #

Corey Morris Denmark says:

Harmless, clever and did exactly what it was meant to do: provoke a few laughs.

May 3, 2012 03:24 AM #

Sterling United States says:

I'm Irish and USED to use my birth name "George" until I was mercilessly assaulted by friends and even my own mother (I was a "Jr.' and they divorced) so I am very USED to jokes and even mean, offensive and derogatory language and actions and portrayals about my ethnicity and Anil Dash should "PLEASE" get over himself as this is a simple parody and to take deep offense to this could perhaps be construed as trying to make something out of absolutely nothing offensive whatsoever.

I agree with Corey Morris - it is completely harmless and clever and is nothing but fun entertainment. Anil your 15 minutes are up and it's a shame that you used them for something so negative and pointless but I wish you very well to learn how to look for the good in people because what you focus on is what the quality of your life is and Anil is obviously in need of a better focus.

May 3, 2012 03:52 AM #

Shuja Jashanmal U.A.E. says:

I'm Indian and not at all offended by this ad.  I think it shows maturity of our civilization to accept "mocking" when done with sense of humor or taste.  Well done Ashton, I've never tried your pop chips but will certainly go out and buy some.  Anil Dash - this is all you could come up with?  We're way past that so don't take us backwards please.

May 3, 2012 04:12 AM #

Lil United Kingdom says:

Hahahaha, I love the Irish commenter who thinks his struggles can compare to that of racism against Indians. Sorry, if you are white it's not the same and you have no place to erase a person of colour's experience by substituting it with your own. I also love that one non-offended Indian instantly trumps many offended Indians. That alone proves the damage of this sort of sick stereotyping.

May 3, 2012 08:08 AM #

m2c2 United States says:

Aside from the terminally ill (and there are times I rethink that position) and real harm to children...EVERYTHING is fair game when it comes to humor, so all the people, of Indian extraction or otherwise,  who are outraged just need to get over themselves.

May 3, 2012 10:04 AM #

Carole Mayer United States says:

I don't know how anyone could be offended by this lame ad campaign. Does this mean no one can ever do a harmless parody of another nationality? It's a joke, albeit a pretty dopey one.

May 3, 2012 10:12 AM #

Pam G United States says:

This is funny! I am a minority -- two minorities -- and chuckle at myself all the time. This is adorable and very irreverent. Not at all offensive. Chees... The CEO kindly called him. The vignettes are cute and make more fun of Ashton's current single status than brown people.

May 5, 2012 08:21 AM #

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