Consumer rights

Blogger’s Park: Why Celebrities Can’t Escape Responsibility

Manisha Kapoor

Picture this: Katrina Kaif relaxing in Relaxo chappals at home or Aishwarya Rai Bachchan counting seetis while cooking arhar dal in a Prestige pressure cooker. When you see an advertisement with these visuals, you will pick up on the subliminal message conveyed by the advertisement that the celebrity endorses the product and that you can have it too.

According to Duff & Phelps’ “Celebrity Brand Assessment Report”, about 50% of recommendations in India feature celebrities, compared to about 20% in the United States. Indian A-listers gladly endorse junk food, sugary drinks, fair trade creams or are even part of surrogate advertisements for alcohol and tobacco brands. More worryingly, celebrities are seen in promotions, dubious or not, for crypto and online games to win real money. In most cases, money isn’t an issue for brands and sometimes creativity isn’t either, but recall is everything and the celebrity connection gives them just that. Consumers recognize celebrities for who they are in real life and not for the character they might play on screen or as a paid brand spokesperson, and aspire to be like them.

Isn’t it therefore imperative that the mentions must in no case convey false or misleading allegations or information? And shouldn’t the endorser bear as much responsibility for putting their stamp of approval on the mark as the mark itself?

The government seems to agree. The 2019 Amendments to the Consumer Protection Act 1986 provide for the stopping/modification of misleading/false advertising which harms consumer interests or infringes consumer rights. The endorser of the false or misleading advertisement may also have to pay heavy penalties and may be prohibited from endorsing any product or service for up to three years. The Act provides for a waiver of such penalties or suspension if the endorsers have exercised due diligence to verify the claims made in any advertisement endorsed by them. Even earlier in 2017, the Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI) launched a set of self-regulatory guidelines for celebrities in advertisements, to ensure that no false, unsubstantiated or misleading claims are made by any celebrity. as part of its approval.

In the past two years alone, in 89% of celebrity complaints received by ASCI, the celebrity was found to be in direct violation of the guidelines. In most cases, this was because they had not performed due diligence as required by the ASCI code.

If controls and measures are in place, so is expert assistance. In accordance with ASCI guidelines, celebrities should be aware of the guidelines; while reiterating that it is the duty of the advertiser and the advertising agency or otherwise to make celebrities aware of these guidelines. ASCI has also launched an Endorser Due Diligence service to help endorsers follow the ASCI code and comply with the rules set out in the Consumer Protection Act (2019). ASCI draws on its vast panel of experts from over 20 fields, who evaluate claims in advertising from a consumer and technical perspective and provide endorsers with all available data and evidence, to help them make informed decisions.
There’s nothing wrong with celebrity endorsements as long as advertisers and endorsers recognize and respect the implicit trust consumers have in the choices endorsed by a favorite celebrity, which far outweighs any commercial value in the transaction.

The author is CEO and Secretary General, ASCI

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