Metro PCS has been running ads for the past year or so featuring two characters that spend most of the time portraying Indian stereotypes and a little bit of time talking about phone services. Ranjit and Chad have thick Indian accents and do a wonderful job of making Indians looking like morons. While some might say that these ads are all in good fun, I think Metro PCS is showing incredibly poor taste by continuing to run these ads.
Here’s an example of an early Metro PCS ‘Tech and Talk’ commercial. As you can see, Ranjit and Chad are molded as a couple of buffoons. There’s a lot of ads that make fun people, but most national brands have the sense to make fun of people’s actions rather than build entire marketing campaigns based on putting down a culture.
Here’s another Metro PCS commercial, which does little more than stereotype Indians as being backwards donkey loving people. Nobody likes being called a donkey, but it’s something particularly harsh insult in India when attached to a couple of other choice words.
While the actors in the commercials may be Indian, this isn’t simply a case of a couple of guys making fun of themselves. There isn’t a single person of south-Asian descent on the Metro PCS management team. Some of my friends have told me that they find the ads funny because they remind them of some of their older relatives or because it’s good to finally see some Indians on primetime. Other friends find the ads deeply offensive.
Like just about everyone, I’ve been frustrated by overseas call centers. That may be your only interaction with someone from India, but my experience is a lot different than that. My family is a cultural melting pot. Explaining where I’m ‘from’ is a complex task at times and there always seem to be follow-up questions. Thanksgiving dinner is usually mix of turkey, stuffing, sushi, lumpia and samosas.
While many families have never been stung by racism, ours has. A few examples? My grandmother spent her high-school years in an internment camp during World War II and wasn’t allowed to receive a teaching credential. My nephews have been told that the speak English very well for Asian boys by one of their teachers. I’ve experienced my own fair share of rude comments and questions. We generally follow my grandmother’s advice and example of making the best of circumstances and ignoring ignorance.
My wife and I are expecting our first child in just a few weeks. He’s going to be half Indian and I want him to be proud of his background. We are going to teach him about our family’s history and how each of his parents and great-grandparent worked so hard so he could be here today. We’re going to teach him about all of their cultures and traditions. The last thing we need is a wireless carrier making fun of one of them continuously.
I think the only reason Metro PCS is ‘allowed’ to run these ads is because nobody’s making much of a fuss about them. If similar ads ran that portrayed African, Jewish or Hispanic Americans, there would be an uproar. There have been countless incidences involving big-brands misstepping when it comes to cultural issues, and they’re generally remedied fairly quickly.
The racist ads may be helping Metro PCS sell more phones in the short term, but it’s forever tarnished the brand in my book.