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Blogger’s Park: Why celebrities can’t escape accountability

Manisha Kapor

Picture this: Katrina Kaif chilling in relaxo chappals at home, or Aishwarya Rai Bachchan counting seetis while cooking arhar dal in a Prestige pressure cooker. When you see an ad with these images, absorb the ad’s subliminal message that the celebrity approves of the product and that you can have it too.

According to Duff & Phelps’ Celebrity Brand Valuation Report, about 50% of recommendations in India feature celebrities, compared to about 20% in the United States. Indian A-listers are happy to endorse junk food, sugary drinks, fairness creams or even be part of replacement ads for alcohol and tobacco brands. Even more worrying is that celebrities are being spotted in promotions, dubious or not, for crypto and online gaming to win real money. Most of the time, money isn’t an issue for brands, and sometimes creativity isn’t, but recognition is paramount and association with celebrities gives them exactly that. Consumers recognize celebrities for who they are in real life and not as a character they might play on-screen or as a paid spokesperson for the brand, and aspire to be like them.

Isn’t it then absolutely necessary that endorsements do not in any way convey false or misleading claims or information? And shouldn’t the endorser have as much responsibility for putting their stamp on the brand as the brand itself?

The government seems to agree. Amendments made in 2019 to the Consumer Protection Act 1986 provide for the cessation/amendment of misleading/false advertising which is detrimental to the consumer’s interests or contrary to consumer rights. The promoter of the false or misleading ad may also face heavy penalties and be banned from endorsement of a product or service for a period of up to three years. The law provides for a waiver of such penalties or suspensions if the endorsers have exercised due care in verifying the information provided in an advertisement they sponsored. Even earlier in 2017, the Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI) had introduced a set of self-regulatory guidelines for celebrities in advertising to ensure that no false, unsubstantiated or misleading claims are made by celebrities as part of their endorsements.

In the last two years alone, 89% of celebrity complaints received by ASCI have found that the celebrity directly violated the Policies. In most cases, this was due to their failure to perform the due diligence required by the ASCI Code.

If the controls and measures are in place, expert assistance is also available. According to the ASCI guidelines, the celebrities are expected to know the guidelines; also reiterating that it is the advertiser’s and advertising or other agency’s duty to bring such policies to the attention of celebrities. ASCI has also introduced 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 relies on its large panel of experts from over 20 fields to evaluate the claims in advertising from consumer and technical perspectives and provide endorsers with all available data and evidence to help them make informed decisions.
There is nothing wrong with celebrity endorsements as long as advertisers and endorsers recognize and respect the consumers’ implied trust and confidence in the choices endorsed by a favorite celebrity – something that far outweighs the commercial value of the transaction.

The author is CEO and Secretary General, ASCI

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