Celebrities Rally Support for Asian Restaurants With #TakeOutHate Campaign

As Chinese eateries close at double the rate of others, MSG maker Ajinomoto takes advocacy role

Jenny Yang eating Chinese food
Comedian and writer Jenny Yang joins the campaign encouraging takeout from Asian restaurants. #TakeOutHate
Headshot of T.L. Stanley

There’s never been a better time to stuff your face with fried rice, chow mein and spring rolls. In addition to jumping on a the popular quarantine trend of carb loading, you just might be throwing a lifeline to a Chinese restaurant in your area.

That’s the message from a celebrity-driven, brand-backed campaign called #TakeOutHate that addresses racism head-on and urges support for local Asian-owned businesses that have been especially hard hit during the pandemic.

Stats show that Chinese restaurants are closing at double the rate of other foodservice venues, “facing an unfair backlash,” according to Womply research. The group’s analysis found that “Chinese food restaurants have been experiencing significant enough discrimination to have a major impact on sales.”

With this data in mind, along with reports of a spike in harassment and attacks on Asian Americans during the public health crisis, the global food conglomerate Ajinomoto—the world’s leading producer of flavor enhancer MSG—and its agency Edelman created a campaign of remotely produced content launching today. The brand is also donating to the nonprofit Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund.

The spot stars comedian Margaret Cho, actor Harry Shum Jr., writer-comedian Jenny Yang and cookbook author and Top Chef judge Gail Simmons, appealing to hungry sheltering-at-home consumers to order “a little too much” Chinese food, sushi or other Asian foods.

“Covid is not sushi’s fault,” said Shum, while Yang said, “Don’t let hate get between you and these shrimp dumps. They’re f-ing delicious.”

Cho calls avoiding Asian restaurants “a sneaky new form of racism.” She and the other celebs ask supporters to snap photos of their takeout orders and post them to social media with the #TakeOutHate hashtag.

“For the first time in history, the world needs you to post more food pictures on Instagram,” Cho said.

The shoot itself, which took place in the stars’ homes, unfolded like this: Edelman provided “fully sanitized selfie kits” with lights, microphones and phones pre-loaded with specialized video-capture software, according to the agency. There was a tech rehearsal before filming, with director Maya Margolina supervising via video chat.

Food and prop styling was planned in advance, with Edelman and Ajinomoto teams guiding the celeb segments in real time.  

The name and logo of the brand, a Japanese seasonings marketer whose founder was the first to isolate and sell MSG, don’t appear in the spot. Jesse Suchmann, executive creative director at Edelman, said the agency “felt it was unnecessary to waste time introducing the brand and instead used our precious 60 seconds to inspire action.”

The agency wanted to avoid the kind of self-promotion that can sometimes distract from serious issues in branded content. Participating celebs will tag Ajinomoto in social media, and the brand will host the video on its site and push out social content with its logo attached.

Ajinomoto’s brand name was also absent from a previous campaign, a PSA with TV personality Jeannie Mai and chef Eddie Huang that asked Merriam-Webster to rewrite the definition of “Chinese restaurant syndrome.”

That work, from early this year, intended to bust a decades-old stigma against monosodium glutamate. The social content zeroed in on the dictionary’s explanation of “Chinese restaurant syndrome” as the potential cause of a number of serious reactions like dizziness and palpitations, despite a lack of medical evidence. MSG has proven to be safe to consume, and everyday products like ramen, Doritos and ranch dressing contain it.

The PSA generated 8.2 million video views on Twitter, 3.5 million on Instagram and 818 million news impressions, according to the brand. And it brought about tangible change.

Through the #RedefineCRS effort, Merriam-Webster updated its entry in May. It now reads: “The term Chinese restaurant syndrome was coined in the late 1960s following reports of people having bad reactions to food seasoned with monosodium glutamate in Chinese restaurants. Research in the years since has failed to establish a clear link between those adverse reactions and the consumption of MSG, and the term Chinese restaurant syndrome has been criticized as misleading and potentially offensive. It has been replaced in medical literature by MSG symptom complex.”


Agency: Edelman
Jimmie Stone, Chief Creative Officer
Jesse Suchmann, Executive Creative Director
Conor Hogan, Creative Director
Eden Lewis, Associate Creative Director
Grace Cha, Jr. Copywriter
Esther Lee, Jr. Art Director
Ari Pomerantz, Executive Producer
Gina LoPinto, Producer
Nicole Stuttman, Project Manager
Stephanie Walker, Account Manager
Gennifer Horowitz, Account Lead
Deanna Kugler, Media Relations Lead
Madison Lehman, Media Relations

Client: Ajinomoto

Director: Maya Margolina

Production Company: ArtClass
Director of Photography: Rory Mulhere
Executive Producer: Kate Aspell, Gino Imbriale
Producer: Anneliese Kristedja
Prop Stylist: Megan Kiantos
Postproduction Company: Chimney
Post Producer: Nicole Melius
Editor: Glenn Conte
Sound: Sonic Union, Joe O’Connell
Color: Kody Wescott
Conform: Zach Moore

@TLStanleyLA terry.stanley@adweek.com T.L. Stanley is a senior editor at Adweek, where she specializes in consumer trends, cannabis marketing, meat alternatives, pop culture, challenger brands and creativity.