Did this MetroPCS ad make the tech world cringe?

Cell phone service provider's new campaign, featuring two supposed Indian tech experts, is proving a bit controversial. The company admits it has received complaints.

Here are some deeply perceptive estimations brought to you in the new ad campaign from cell phone service provider MetroPCS: All Indian males work in the tech industry. Unless they are in Bollywood. And all Indian techies are terribly nerdy beings with the dress sense of a dead gardener in his coffin.

Perhaps, you, too, were mesmerized by one of these spots, featuring Ranjit and Chad, two Indian tech experts, during Sunday's Super Bowl. Or perhaps this was merely some kind of local buy, as the so-called "Tech and Talk" campaign has been plaguing my own television for more than a few days during every sports event I aim to enjoy.

It's not for me to wonder how things like this get created. Perhaps, the answer is "with some ease." But the frequency with which this campaign has managed to affect my inner workings caused me to actually contact MetroPCS for a little tech and talk.

You see, I will admit to wondering whether some members of the Indian community, the Indian tech community, or merely innocent bysitters had registered any discomfort.

"There have been many positive responses by people who find the commercials humorous, as it was originally intended," Bob Fant, vice president of advertising and brand development at Dallas-based MetroPCS Communications, told me in an e-mail. "There also have been some reactions from those who have taken offense. The positive reactions have heavily outnumbered the negative ones."

Phew. I was worried there for a minute. It is meant to be humorous.

"The TV anchors--Ranjit and Chad--are meant to be viewed as endearing, smart tech experts who are knowledgeable about everything wireless, and they use their own local access cable TV show to help consumers make sense of the many wireless service plans out there and learn where they can find the best deals," Fant told me.

Who doesn't want to be viewed as endearing and smart? This is the craving of every politician and salesperson. The question is whether that is how these two characters--actors who were cast specifically for their roles--will be seen.

As the campaign progresses, Fant told me: "You will see that the characters are treated with respect."

Respect is a difficult area. We all crave it. But we're not always so swift to offer it. Still, Fant reassured me about the campaign: "It is not our wish to offend anyone who sees our commercials. In fact, our business model is set up to allow for anyone, regardless of credit scores, income level, or ethnicity, to have the convenience of a mobile phone."

Fant did admit that there have been complaints, specifically from the Indian community. So, while it seems refreshing that an ad campaign might have Indian spokesmen, I thought I'd ask some Indian citizens living in the U.S. how they feel when they watch Ranjit, Chad, and the gang have such an amusing, cellular time.

The response was really rather uniform. Some mentioned the "Sales Genie" Super Bowl ad from 2008, which also made them feel uncomfortable. I will offer you one quote from someone rather high up in the tech world. I have withheld his name, merely because he asked me to. However, his views about the MetroPCS ads do reflect what I heard from quite a few.

"To be honest, it's a little offensive as I don't know anybody who talks like that," he told me. "Secondly if the campaign had a reason and if the ads were actually funny I would have been fine about them."

Funny can do so much. So I wonder whether my sample size was too small and whether, perhaps, anyone from the tech world, Indian or not, might just have an opinion on this curious creative construction.

 

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