Ashton’s Bolly Folly
The cardinal rule of advertising is don’t be boring. Sadly, US snack retailer PopChips missed the mark in their latest ad campaign, which features Ashton Kutcher in an excruciatingly unfunny caricature of an Indian man named Raj.
The online campaign triggered a backlash of virtual rage and reawakened the old debate of humour vs. racism.
In the ad, Kutcher assumes the roles of four lovelorn men, each creating a dating video for the World Wide Lovers dating service. It seems like a relatively benign concept—even clever. But watching Kutcher don brownface and exaggerate unflattering Indian stereotypes for the sake of hawking potato chips left most viewers with a bad taste in their mouths.
Naturally, by now the contrite apologies have been mumbled, and PopChips has issued a statement saying the dating parody was “created to provoke a few laughs and never intended to stereotype or offend anyone.” Raj has been pulled from the campaign, and the company hopes people can enjoy what remains of the ad “in the spirit it was intended.”
Now, there’s no way PopChips meant to be offensive. After all, setting out to create an ad that offends potential consumers and collapses into an expensive PR mess borders on insanity. Additionally, there’s no denying that knowing where to draw the line can be difficult. Most of us have certainly seen a comedian put a toe or two over the line of propriety—and often it’s funny.
So where did PopChips go wrong? After all, Kutcher was equally unkind to all the white characters, which included a hippie, a diva, and a biker. It may be a case of heightened racial sensitivity, but the fact remains that visible minority groups still face many challenges, and there is something unsavory about trying to get a primarily white audience to laugh at a minority group for the sake of boosting sales.
Perhaps the biggest problem was that the ad was just un-funny.. If Raj had been genuinely amusing, maybe there wouldn’t have been room for the discomfort and awkwardness, which spiraled into indignation and rage.