Prolific tech investor Ashton Kutcher made a major flub in his new advertising campaign for Pop Chips out today, although you wouldn’t know it by reading the industry press. Thankfully, Anil Dash was there to call it like he sees it, as Mr. Dash is wont to do. In the campaign, Mr. Kutcher, who was named Pop Chips “president of pop culture” in 2010, plays four different characters in a series of spots made to look like dating videos. For the Indian character named Raj, Mr. Kutcher is painted up in brownface and speaks in a caricature of an Indian accent.
“Don’t watch it,” Mr. Dash writes in a blogpost condemning the ad. “It’s a hackneyed, unfunny advertisement featuring Kutcher in brownface talking about his romantic options, with the entire punchline being that he’s doing it in a fake-Indian outfit and voice. That’s it, there’s seriously no other gag.”
Don’t see the harm in it? Here, let Mr. Dash break it down for you.
“I can’t imagine I have to explain this to anyone in 2012, but if you find yourself putting brown makeup on a white person in 2012 so they can do a bad “funny” accent in order to sell potato chips, you are on the wrong course. Make some different decisions.”
Shortly after Mr. Dash published his screed, the YouTube video for the commercial became private, as did the videos of the other characters. Earlier, Stuart Elliot of the New York Times described the characters as such, “Darl, a diva; Nigel, a hippie; Raj, an optimist who is Indian; and Swordfish, a sweet biker.” Apparently, the Darl spot was clueless as well.
Mr. Kutcher, who has been happily tweeting out links to the spots, has yet to delete any of the tweets or respond to criticism of the campaign. But making the video private is ironic, because one of Mr. Dash’s many suggestions for how Pop Chips could be better is by not pulling the ad down and offering an explanation about how the process failed instead. You can check out the rest of his advice for a company that finds itself in the middle of a very public faux pas on his blog.
In the meantime, Betabeat is starting to wonder if there’s a “Real Talk with Anil Dash” web series in the works that nobody told us about.