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 advertisement with these visuals, you will be picking up the subliminal message conveyed by the ad that the celebrity approves of the product and that you can have it too.
As per the Duff & Phelps’ “Celebrity Brand Valuation Report”, around 50% of endorsements in India feature celebrities compared to around 20% in the United States. Indian A-listers happily endorse junk food, sugary drinks, fairness creams or are even part of surrogate ads for alcohol and tobacco brands. More worryingly, celebrities are seen in promotions, dubious or otherwise, for crypto and online gaming for winning real money. In most cases, money is no issue for the brands and sometimes, creativity isn’t either, but recall is all important and the celebrity tie-up gives them just that. Consumers recognise the celebrities for who they are in real life and not for the character they might be playing on screen or as a paid spokesperson of the brand, and aspire to be like them.
Is it not imperative then, that endorsements should in no way convey false or misleading claims or information? And should the endorser not bear as much responsibility for putting their stamp of approval on the brand as the brand itself?
The government seems to agree. Amendments made in 2019 to the Consumer Protection Act of 1986 provide for discontinuation/modification of a misleading/false advertisement which is prejudicial to the interest of the consumer or are in contravention with consumer rights. The endorser of the false or misleading ad may also have to pay heavy penalties and may be prohibited from endorsing any product or service for a period 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) had launched a set of self-regulatory guidelines for celebrities in advertisements, to ensure no false, unsubstantiated or misleading claims are made by a celebrity as part of their endorsement.
Over the last two years alone, in 89% of complaints regarding celebrities received by ASCI, it was found that the celebrity was in direct violation of the guidelines. In most cases, this was a result of their not conducting due diligence as mandated by the ASCI code.
If the checks and measures are in place, so is the expert assistance. As per the ASCI guidelines, the celebrities are expected to be aware of the guidelines; while also reiterating that it is the duty of the advertiser and the advertising or other agency to make the celebrities aware of such guidelines. ASCI has also launched an Endorser Due Diligence service to help endorsers follow the ASCI code and abide by the rules laid down in the Consumer Protection Act (2019). ASCI draws upon its vast panel of experts from over 20 fields, who assess the claims in the advertisement from a consumer and technical perspective and provide endorsers with all data and evidence available, to help them make informed decisions.
There is nothing wrong with celebrity endorsements as long as advertisers and endorsers recognise and respect the implicit trust and confidence consumers have in choices endorsed by a favourite celebrity—something that far outweighs any commercial value in the transaction.
The author is CEO & Secretary General, ASCI