3 Ways to Avoid Racist Ads Like Ashton Kutcher's for Popchips

Diversity management is the key to preventing multicultural missteps like this week's fiasco—a video of Ashton Kutcher in "brown face" portraying an Indian as part of an ad campaign to sell Popchips.

By Barbara Frankel 


Diversity management is the key to preventing multicultural missteps like this week's fiasco—a video of Ashton Kutcher in "brown face" portraying an Indian as part of an ad campaign to sell Popchips.

After a hugely negative social-media response, Popchips removed the ad from Facebook, Twitter and its own website. However, unofficial versions of it remain everywhere.

The original ad, which you can watch below, was part of Ashton Kutcher's series of dating-video spoofs, in which he is portrayed as various characters looking for a date. In one scene, he pretends to be a Bollywood producer named Raj. Kutcher has his face painted brown and a bad sing-song accent. Indian Americans on social media were incensed about the portrayal. For example, Anil Dash even wrote a blog demanding Popchips, Kutcher and Alison Brod PR fix the racist ad campaign.

Kutcher, who owns a minority stake in the privately held Popchips and is its "president of pop culture," developed the $1.5-million ad campaign with the help of ad agency Zambezi, a Venice, Calif.-based youth-oriented agency as well as Popchips CEO Keith Belling. Kutcher's previous ad for Popchips, which was featured online in 2011, portrays racial stereotypes against Blacks and Latinos.

Here's how to avoid similarly embarrassing and potentially costly mistakes, based on our experience examining the diversity-management success and failures of companies applying to The DiversityInc Top 50 Companies for Diversity list over the past 13 years.

Diversity-Management Tip No. 1: Use Your Resource Groups as Focus Groups

As Novartis Pharmaceuticals Corporation, No. 13 in the DiversityInc Top 50, demonstrated at DiversityInc's first Innovation Fest! in February, resource groups understand their communities and what works – and what's offensive. Novartis saved more than $1 million in marketing research by asking its motivated resource-group employees to vet its materials.

Our diversity web seminar on resource groups, featuring Procter & Gamble, No. 5 in the DiversityInc Top 50, and American Express, No. 14, showed exactly how valuable their resource groups were to examining marketplace ideas, including ad campaigns. American Express, which has 16 groups, used its Latino and Asian groups to develop holiday cards that were culturally competent and brought in significant revenue.

Membership in resource groups of DiversityInc Top 50 Companies has increased dramatically in recent years because these groups are proving their value to the business goals.

Diversity-Management Tip No. 2: Ensure Moral Values Are Clearly Communicated

Organizations with clearly stated values, including diversity & inclusion, are less likely to have ambiguous decisions made on any level. Popchips' website does not include any statement about values and/or diversity. By contrast, all of the DiversityInc Top 50 companies have mission statements mentioning values and diversity on their corporate websites.

A good example of a company that espouses and lives up to its values is jcpenney (No. 35 in the DiversityInc Top 50). The retailer, and CEO Ron Johnson, stood firmly behind its decision to have Ellen DeGeneres as its spokesperson, even after a protest from an organization that called itself One Million Moms but really had only about 40,000 followers. Read our coverage of this news in Lessons on Values From Ellen & JCPenney.

For its Mother's Day catalog, jcpenney is featuring a lesbian couple (one of whom is an actual employee) to make the point that it is an inclusive company. View this photo on Huffington Post.

For more on clarity of values, read Ask the White Guy: Decision Making, Clarity of Values & What to Do When It Goes Horribly Wrong.

Diversity-Management Tip No. 3: Make Sure Apologies Come From the Top 

In this case, Popchips gets some credit. While CEO Keith Belling was part of the team that came up with the ad, he has personally apologized for it and seems to get the point.

On Popchips' "what's poppin'" blog, Belling issued this apology: "We received a lot of feedback about the dating campaign parody we launched today and appreciate everyone who took the time to share their point of view. Our team worked hard to create a light-hearted parody featuring a variety of characters that was meant to provide a few laughs. We did not intend to offend anyone. I take full responsibility and apologize to anyone we offended."

CEO commitment is a cornerstone of good diversity management. That also means accepting the responsibility for failures, including multicultural missteps. CEOs who have done this over the years have seen their companies regain credibility.

For more companies' multicultural missteps, read 'I'm Puerto Rican—I'd Be Great at Selling Drugs'; 'Not Married? She Must Be a Lesbian' and Lowe's Muslim Publicity Gaffe Serves as Case Study of What Not to Do.

 

 

 

 

Racist Professor Who Calls Blacks, Hispanics More Violent Than Whites Appointed to Trump's Sentencing Commission

William Otis will fit right in with Attorney General Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III.

Bill Otis / SCREENSHOT VIA PBS NEWSHOUR

A former federal prosecutor who once said Blacks and Hispanics are more violent than whites has been tapped to join President Donald Trump's sentencing commission.

Read More Show Less

Dodge Blasted for Distastefully Using MLK's Words in Super Bowl Ad

The ad from a company whose leadership includes little diversity featured a portion of Dr. King's sermon though omitted the part in which he also admonished pressure from advertisers.

Dodge received swift rebuke for its Super Bowl ad Sunday night in what many critics said was a distasteful use of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. to sell cars and tone-deaf to Dr. King's message.

Read More Show Less

H&M Uses Black Child in Racist 'Coolest Monkey in the Jungle' Ad, Apologizes

"H&M: have you lost your damned minds?" New York Times columnist Charles Blow tweeted.

TWITTER

After intense backlash on social media and threats of a boycott H&M apologized for an advertisement on its website featuring a Black boy wearing a green hoodie with the phrase, "Coolest Monkey in the Jungle."

Read More Show Less

Justice Department Threatens to Sue Harvard over Admissions Policies

The Justice Department cited a 2015 lawsuit that charges Harvard's affirmative action policies discriminate against Asian American applicants.

REUTERS

(Reuters) — The U.S. Justice Department has threatened to sue Harvard University to force it to turn over documents as it investigates whether the Ivy League school's admission policies violate civil rights laws by discriminating against Asian American applicants.

Read More Show Less

Model in Dove Ad Speaks Out: 'I'm Not a Victim'

Lola Ogunyemi claims the full commercial's message was distorted, but the clip that went viral represents a culture that continues to promote light skin as the most desirable.

SCREENGRAB VIA BBC

The Black model who appeared in a Dove ad that garnered negative attention for its racist message claims that critics may have jumped the gun before knowing the full commercial's intended message.

Read More Show Less

Stop Talking About the Rooney Rule

Magical thinking will not move the needle on your diversity efforts, or your career, if your leadership is not accountable for results.

REUTERS

Luke Visconti is the founder and CEO of DiversityInc. Although the title of his column is meant to be humorous, the issues he addresses and the answers he gives to questions are serious — and based on his 17 years of experience publishing DiversityInc. Click here to send your own question to Luke.

Read More Show Less

'Regardless Of,' 'It Doesn't Matter' — Bigoted Phrases in Common Use

Credibility is at the core of a successful diversity management effort. Secretary Tillerson provides a teachable moment.

REUTERS

Luke Visconti is the founder and CEO of DiversityInc. Although the title of his column is meant to be humorous, the issues he addresses and the answers he gives to questions are serious — and based on his 17 years of experience publishing DiversityInc. Click here to send your own question to Luke.

Read More Show Less