By Amna Kapur:
The first time I fell prey to a celebrity endorsed advertisement was when I saw Preity Zinta’s face (I despise her now) in cohesion with Maggi. My mother had always told me not to eat instant noodles–they were full of chemicals and ‘crushed cockroaches’, but that day I sneaked off to my grandparents’ room and begged them to buy me a packet. When my mom found out, she wasn’t exactly happy with me. I pressed back, “But mom, it’s healthy!” She laughed and then banned me from watching TV for a week.
That was my first lesson in naivety and blind belief, especially in misleading advertisements. A new report by the Parliamentary Committee on Food, Consumer Affairs, and Public Distribution says that brand ambassadors may be held liable for claims made in advertisements with penalties up to ₹50 lakh and a five-year prison sentence.
According to Cynthia Webster and Jasmina Ilicic, when consumers see a celebrity endorsing a brand, they begin to see only the personality and ignore the product. So, if Mahendra Singh Dhoni is seen promoting a particular item or service, cricket fans will blindly agree to his claims without using the “common-sense approach” as Consumer Affairs Minister Ram Vilas Paswan calls it. But, is it the responsibility of the brand to adhere to moral guidelines when marketing or that of the celebrity?
While it is clear that the company should be in charge of not misleading its customers, more often than not, they will make unsubstantiated claims to draw in clients as long as they cannot be legally persecuted for the same. However, attaching a recognised face to a product instantaneously ensures more buyers and the celebrity endorsing the product should be aware of his or her influence. An eminent figure like Madhuri Dixit should make sure to authenticate the assertions made by the product she is promoting before telling her fan base to go out and buy a lead-filled toxic packet of instant noodles that supposedly has a high nutritional value.
In a recent shampoo advertisement featuring Anushka Sharma and Karan Johar, the former declares that she uses this particular shampoo every day and it has “changed her life” by completely ending her hair fall. Below, in nearly indecipherable fine print comes the disclaimer: “Only in system controlled environments”. The warning barely appears for seven seconds and is concealed by the white background. A fan of the star might not think twice before rushing to spend their hard-earned money on a frivolous product.
Thus, though the brand itself should be held accountable for making false statements, often the FDA and ASCI overlook products that don’t directly affect the consumer’s health or safety and these companies make money by preying on the naivety of unknowing innocents. With the new guidelines that will optimistically be approved, the celebrities endorsing the product will take on the duty of verifying the implausible claims made by the company ensuring a new, more truthful era of marketing.