The Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI) recently released a list of celebrities who failed to follow due diligence while advertising a product or a brand. Cricketer MS Dhoni tops the list that also includes cricketer Virat Kohli, actors Bhuvan Bam, Jim Sarbh, Vishal Malhotra, Shraddha Kapoor, Ranveer Singh, Shibani Dandekar, Pratik Gandhi and Sara Ali Khan. The ASCI also reported an 803% increase in complaints against these celebrities compared to the previous year. But, is the onus solely on celebs to adhere to norms? We explore…
Actor Pratik Gandhi, who is also named in the list, says he was not even aware that there are any such rules. Furthermore, he argues that it’s not practical for celebs to use a product for the time period mentioned buy the brand. “That’s not my job, I am not here to research. The brand needs to be held accountable for what they are offering and also the government bodies who are giving the license to these companies,” he says.
While Gandhi clarifies that he does check for necessary safety markings, he explains, “For example, if it is an edible item, I look for FSSAI mark. If it’s there, it gives me an impression that the concerned body must have done its job. But how can I make sure that the product is not what it’s claiming? I can’t verify it myself.”
Actor Gajraj Rao, who also owns an ad film company, opines that actors are being paid to do a job, and while it’s the social responsibility of every individual to not deceive the public, it is unjust to accuse and take legal action against celebs for such matters.
He elaborates, “An actor has worked hard to earn that name and if he is promoting a product among his fan base, there is no harm. He is being paid for the work he is doing and he in no way is the end creator of the product. Just like you go to a doctor to get medicines prescribed, and if the medicines turn out to be fake, it’s not the doctors’ fault. He was not the manufacturer. He would only say that ye government approved medicines hain aur isme meri galti nahi. Actors are just like those doctors.”
But, ad filmmaker Prahlad Kakkar feels celebs need to cross-check the veracity of the claims made by a brand, given the kind of influence they have on the masses.
“Dhoni had endorsed a housing project, which was later found to have engaged in financial irregularities and fund diversion. The Supreme Court-appointed audit team uncovered these malpractices in 2019, leading to losses for thousands of homebuyers who had invested in the project based on Dhoni’s endorsement. The cricketer was held accountable for his actions and issued a public apology while returning the money he received from the company,” he explains.
Advocates Syed Tamjeed Ahmad and Rakhee Biswas point out how in January, the Centre had guidelines “requiring influencers/celebrities to satisfy themselves about the authenticity of the manufacturer’s/service provider’s claims before advertising/endorsing any product or service”.
They further share, “Even the Consumer Protection Act 2019 defines ‘falsely describing product/services or giving a false guarantee’ as a misleading advertisement. An interesting aspect of this emerging jurisprudence is that we may now witness an era where celebrities/influencers may be dragged into consumer litigations. Influencers/celebrities should now be cognizant of this and do their due diligence before endorsing any product or service, else we may see an increase in cases where celebrities are being dragged to Courts.”
Manisha Kapoor, CEO and Secretary-General, ASCI, understands and acknowledges the fact that celebrities are unlikely to have domain expertise for the products they endorse, and hence suggests, “to get their due diligence by consulting a reputed expert. Even ASCI offers a due diligence service through a panel of experts. Both advertisers and celebrities have a responsibility towards their audiences and consumers. This responsibility is both moral as well as legal,” she tells us, adding, “We have no issues in celebrities promoting brands or products whatsoever. However it is not ok for brands to make false promises in their ads and for celebrities to blindly endorse products without taking any accountability for the claims made in the ads in which they appear.”
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