The Controversial Ashton Kutcher Popchips Ad You Probably Never Knew Existed

Michael Kelso in "That '70s Show." Walden Schmidt in "Two and Half Men." The host of "Punk'd." Evan Treborn in "The Butterfly Effect." Ashton Kutcher has  countless iconic TV and movie roles under his belt. But what you may not know him from is his involvement in a controversial Popchips commercial more than a decade ago, per Mashable.

The ad aired in April 2012 and features five different bachelor characters — all played by Kutcher — "looking for romance" on a fictitious dating show. (Think Mike Myers in "Austin Powers.") The commercial was intended to be humorous, but it ended up causing an uproar instead. Viewers called it racist on social media because of the actor's portrayal of an Indian character, Raj. (Kutcher's other four Popchips characters didn't seem to ruffle any feathers.)

So what was it about Raj in this commercial that caused so much controversy — and how did Popchips respond?

The Popchips ad received swift backlash

Ashton Kutcher's Popchips commercial starts the way you'd expect a corny dating website ad to begin. But in this case, the website is fictional. The ad features five eligible bachelors, with varying appearances, personalities, and accents. The first one we meet is 39-year-old Raj, a Bollywood producer "looking for the most delicious thing on the planet." In playing Raj, Kutcher attempts to mimic an Indian accent as he describes his search for the perfect woman.

For this first character, Kutcher wears a dark brown wig, a fake mustache, a prosthetic nose, and a blue shirt comparable to an Indian sherwani suit. One of his most obvious features, though, is his face. His brown face — and no, it's not a suntan.

"Brownface" is when a person with light skin uses dark makeup to present himself or herself as a person of color, CNN explains. It's considered offensive, and the Popchips ad is no exception. The ad went viral within days of its release, with many viewers, including other celebrities, criticizing Kutcher's portrayal of Raj. Vulture described the ad as "discomfitingly racist," and hip-hop group Das Racist also called out Kutcher's apparent brownface (via Gothamist). Still, some viewers defended Kutcher's ad, saying it was simply meant to be a joke.

Popchips' response to the controversy

In response to the backlash, Popchips CEO Keith Belling issued a public apology for the ad, per CNN. "We received a lot feedback about the dating campaign parody ... and appreciate everyone who took the time to share their point of view," Belling wrote in a statement on the Popchips website (via CNN). "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." Popchips later pulled the commercial from its Facebook page and YouTube channel.

As for how Ashton Kutcher responded to the backlash, two months after the commercial aired, he still hadn't made a public statement about the controversy, and writer Ling Woo Liu noticed. In a June 2012 CNN opinion piece, she shared her impatience and encouraged Kutcher to "work with people who make you better" or "invest in solutions." Ten years later, the actor still doesn't appear to have addressed the infamous ad.

The Popchips ad can still be found on various YouTube channels and is still generating controversy, 10 years later.