Update: Forbes reports that Pop Chips ran this same campaign in the UK before launching in that market. The British reaction to it was exactly the same and the spot was pulled after public outcry. “The reasoning seems to come straight from Oscar Wilde and P.T. Barnum (if he actually said “there’s no such thing as bad publicity”),” says Forbes. Wonder if that’s the advice Ashton is giving his startups.
Correction: Just kidding, Pop Chips PR representatives just confirmed to Betabeat that the Forbes report was wrong. The ad went was only released in the U.S. market. The Forbes blogger read the dates wrong, as well as the country. And yes, as you suspected, no one is going to come out of this looking good. Including bloggers!
Yesterday, Pop Chips unveiled its latest advertising campaign. It involved having spokesman Ashton Kutcher play a variety of characters, including an Indian immigrant named “Raj,” for which Mr. Kutcher painted his face brown and affected an over-the-top accent. Last night, shortly after Anil Dash pointed out that using brownface to hawk bags of potato chips in 2012 was a sign of ingrained racism–and criminally cheeseball–Pop Chips founder and CEO Keith Belling issued an apology on the company blog.
“our team worked hard to create a light-hearted parody featuring a variety of characters that was meant to provide a few laughs,” Mr. Belling wrote in all-lower case. “we did not intend to offend anyone. i take full responsibility and apologize to anyone we offended.”
Mr. Dash thoughtfully provided some helpful guidelines for fixing the bonehead move, including not taking the video down and offering an explanation of how the creative process failed so others could learn from their missteps. Mr. Belling apparently thought it would safer to make all the videos related to the campaign private.
The controversy made its way to TMZ this morning, but despite all the fervor, Mr. Kutcher has yet to respond. We reached out to Mr. Kutcher’s publicist earlier today and will update this post as soon as we hear back. As we reported last night, Mr. Kutcher’s carefree links to YouTube videos of the commercials are still up on his Twitter page.
Mr. Belling elaborated a little in his response to TMZ:
“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. 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.”
The rap group Das Racist also had some choice words for Mr. Kutcher yesterday, along with the New York Times coverage of the campaign:
Both Mr. Dash and Das Racist continue to deal with negative response to their criticism on Twitter, including a death threat to Mr. Dash. The other cone of silence in the aftermath of the campaign comes from the scads of startups Mr. Kutcher has invested in:
— Anil Dash (@anildash) May 2, 2012
Something tells us not to hold our breath.