Monday, January 3, 2011

The MetroPCS ads

A friend on Twitter alerted me to some ads that aired during a recent Superbowl and after, hawking MetroPCS' cellular services. These ads feature two South Asian/Indian-Americans, talking with very recognizable accents and using common Western stereotypes - cows, cobras and snake charmers. The ad campaign provoked a major backlash - a Google search for "MetroPCS ads racist" turns up ~29,000 hits, including calls to boycott MetroPCS. The campaign seems to have helped sales, though MetroPCS' Youtube channel no longer features the ads.

I watched the ads, and I must say - I was not offended by them. There are definitely some caricatures I would rather avoid - especially snake charmers and cobras. But maybe I am not offended as many others are, because:
1. I have known Indians who talk like the two characters, though without the cow and snake charmer references. Perhaps that's because I am a first-generation immigrant to the US - FOB! Second- or third-generation Indian-Americans are less likely to find these heavily-accented caricatures even remotely familiar. (I speak English with a distinct accent, though not as pronounced.)
2. Many of the aforementioned Indians-with-a-thick-accent were also very smart - and the two characters in the MetroPCS ads are shown offering useful ("smart") advice to the poor, frustrated cellphone user. This is a "good" stereotype, is there is ever such a thing.

There are other ads that caricature Indians as lazy and incompetent (a la "Sambo") - in particular, a Discover Card ad featuring a guy (who looks White!) with an Indian accent and calling himself "Peggy." These ads definitely make me uncomfortable, and I will probably give Discover a call over this, if not cancel my account altogether.

But the MetroPCS ads? Naah, not worth wasting my time over.