Product’s Dependability: A Celebrity’s Worry?

“Boost is the secret of my energy” was the famous one-liner by the cricketing legend Sachin Tendulkar that was so loved by the people, that it helped the company’s revenue soar. In a country where “movies and cricket” sell, it should not surprise many for the value that these celebrities bring to the product, that many buy the product not so much for the content but the celebrity endorsing the product.

Celebrities earn quite high from these endorsements but are they aware of the downsides of the agreement that are they are entering into?

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Image Credit: pilladvised.com

The recent instance of Bollywood actors Madhuri Dixit, Amitabh Bachchan and Preity Zinta being held responsible for promoting Maggi noddles suggests that perhaps the celebrities are not spending enough time to understand the product before endorsing. Also, how much of the product should they know? Caution is a pre-requisite, but what is the depth of diligence they should go to? Can they rely on say for example, a FDA approval or a lab test or what the company officials represent and warrant? Is it right to fix the responsibility on the brand ambassadors for mistakes of the company?

In a research report published by Indian school of Business, Hyderabad, found that an ordinary individual purely buys the product due to the “match-up” and the image of the personality that is promoting. So, the sales, many a time, is due to the popularity of the personality. “Match-up” is the phenomenon where the consumers plainly relate the image of the person with that of the product and buy the product.

For example, Rahul Dravid likes to bring in his ‘credibitity’ factor, which is transfer of his image to the product he is endorsing. Hence the cricketer has been vocal that he will not endorse a sub-standard product.

But why hold the celebrity responsible?

Section 2(1) (r) of the Consumer Protection Act defines the “Unfair Trade Practices”, which means a trade practice which, for the purpose of promoting the sale, use or supply of any goods or service, including false representation that the goods/services are of a particular standard, quality, quantity, grade, composition, style or model.

The celebrity is infact endorsing which is a stronger form of promotion.

While there is always an argument of ‘buyer beware’, from a buyer perspective, it can be cited that the product has been purchased only because it has been promoted by someone who is very famous. Celebrities have been subjected to the Central Consumer Protection Council (CCCP) due to the endorsement of a substandard product. CCP is the apex body that works towards protecting the interests of consumers and ensures that they are not falling prey to misleading advertisements. Recently, they have constituted a subcommittee to administer the increased number of cases where the products are found to be of inferior quality and still being consumed only due to the advertisements and endorsement by the celebrities.

“We have similar problems across the country. We have Shahrukh Khan or some other Hindi film star endorsing consumer items, and they get huge payment for doing so. Misleading ads featuring such famous faces shown on TV even for a day serves the purpose of advertisers. We discussed how suomotu action can be taken against ads that have been withdrawn. Even the celebrities must pay compensation in case there is a complaint,” said Joseph Victor, a CCPC member.

You might agree that ‘puffery’ cannot be a recourse in the noodles case, specially so in food, health, pharmaceuticals.

Should there be another law, like the Union Food Minister is mulling over, given the Maggi incident or should there be more diligence to be done by the celebrities? The Union Food Ministry wants to put an end to the “confusing advertisements” and make provisions for ‘life imprisonment’ for the offenders who are deceiving the consumers for the sale of essential commodities and food items.

Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI) has framed a self-regulating code that controls the standards of the advertising in India. As discussed above, the CCP has made strides towards fighting the menace of the false advertising and has even declared that the celebrity endorsing will be required to pay compensation if found that he/she is endorsing product that is of a poor quality.

We have the essential legal framework. Section 2 (I) (r) of the Consumer Protection Act, calls out “Unfair Trade Practices” and includes “misleading representation”, which does not confine itself to food and essential commodities. May be, an amendment to the existing consumer laws is a better approach.

Amitabh Bachchan, who was previously the brand ambassador of Pepsi co, has withdrawn after having met a child at a social gathering and the kid has asked why’s that the actor is promoting a brand that has toxic levels and is has been labeled as “poison” by her teacher. Taking into account the pros and cons of the false advertisement and liability that the celebrity is exposed to, the celebrities should be more mindful, more cautious and definitely more diligent while signing up a brand endorsement agreement. Celebrities have a moral responsibility as well, towards the general public.

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