Here's why celebrities would be forced to restrain brand endorsements willy-nilly

Celebrities now will have to exercise extreme caution in selection of brand endorsements as the Parliamentary Standing Committee is all out to make celebrities responsible for misleading ads.

In the report, the Committee headed by Telugu Desam Party MP JC Divakar Reddy has submitted recommendations to Parliament laying down stringent provisions including jail term up to five years and hefty penalty of up to 50 lakh in order to protect consumer interest.

Celebrity ads_ 380The role of brand ambassadors has been under scrutiny since the time Indian cricket icon Mahendra Singh Dhoni was bombarded with tweets by unhappy residents of Amprapali society of which he was a brand ambassador, over inaccessible delay in house possession and incomplete handover, asking Dhoni to dissociate himself from the builder.

Since then a lot of debate has transpired on the role of a brand ambassador and what happens if a product fails on committed values.Are brand ambassadors liable to punishment? Celebrities who influence masses to buy a product, based on their eminent role as respected leaders in their fields, should they not be held responsible to some degree for the failure of a product? This controversial point of debate in Indian advertising context has been put to rest with the Parliamentary panel suggestions. It comes strong specially for misrepresentation of food product.

"The Central Consumer Protection Council’s (CCPC) view was that celebrities should be responsible for misleading advertisements," Consumer Affairs Minister Ram Vilas Paswan said.

Further, the CCPC chairman thought that guidelines should be etched out for brand ambassadors.

Celebrities have been facing criticism over brand endorsements. Some celebrities have come under fire recently for endorsing brands outside their arena.

The case of actor Salman Khan being made a goodwill ambassador of Indian contingent for Rio Olympics has got the tongues wagging- a film star promoting sports- how this can be ignoring a number of shining sport stalwarts.

The focus has come on the organisation too - the Indian Olympic Association - and why there arose a need to bypass the merits of those within the sports ambit to select a personality who is not a sports person per se. One good thing that may happen through this scrutiny is that the IOA, which at the moment lacks funds and is a hindrance to many a struggling budding sport stars, may get revived on an urgent basis.

Perhaps the IOA chaps thought Salman fitted the role as an ambassador as he dons the role of a wrestler in his forthcoming film ‘Wrestler’.

But this act of IOA has been perceived as demeaning to scores of sportsmen who have done India proud on many occasions. Many think organisations like IOA instead of relegating their own sports people to the background should actually use every single opportunity to bring to limelight the unsung heroes of sports.

When voices were raised against this decision of IOA to appoint Salman Khan as goodwill ambassador, Salman’s father Salim Khan, rose to the defense of his son, perhaps going too far in tweeting that Milkha Singh should be thankful that Bollywood revived him.

Now, that remark did not gel well with people.

Poor Salman, as a goodwill act he had ventured to promote the Olympic games in Rio. Little did he know that such brouhaha would be created over his new role.

After all, he was only being human.

I guess, now the whole endorsement scenario would change with the onus of a product to some extent falling on the celebrity endorsing it.

All those celebrities who had been getting the dough without an inclination of the product they were endorsing will now think twice and perhaps understand the dilemma of customers more clearly when they too face the same situation of judging a product.

This holds relevance especially in the case of real estate, which is the highest product asset in retail. And one way the customers decide on a particular product is definitely influenced by the brand ambassadors they see and believe in who coax buyers to purchase the product.

The real estate entity, Amrapali Group, which hired Indian cricketer Mahendra Singh Dhoni to promote a set of Amrapali Homes is now history.

Dhoni’s respect as a cricket star drew home buyers who associated with Dhoni’s persona and the values that he stands for, to buy homes that he endorsed.

Now, the problem arose when the product failed to be delivered. These people then complained that they had been attracted by the star who appeared in all advertisement mediums - hoardings, newspapers and magazines – almost vouching genuinely for the product in his capacity as a genuine cricket star who delivers.

This was for the first time that home consumers resorted to involve the brand ambassador through social media platform to make him aware that the product he endorsed failed to be delivered as promised.

Desperate residents of Amrapali Saphhire, a housing society in Noida built by Amrapali Group, after a long commitment gap by the builder, tagged Mahendra Singh Dhoni, in social media tweets.

Also, floods of tweets came through the respective buyers of Amrapali Golf Homes who had booked in 2009 and were to be handed out possession in January 2015 but were still waiting as construction was not fully completed. Losing their patience with the builder who had been prevaricating, consumers let the eminent brand ambassador know about their anguish and the product delay.

The consumers could not have found a better man to champion their cause.

Being a responsible cricketer, Dhoni created encouragement among consumers by agreeing to talk to the builder as to why the projects were not delivered.

Afterwards, as social media campaigns grew stronger with tweets #AmrapaliMisuseDhoni, Dhoni disassociated himself from Amrapali Group as brand ambassador, proving to some extent the moral responsibility which he was bowed down with.

Talking to a television channel, noted columnist Suhel Seth remarked, “Celebrities are not responsible for product failures.” Countering this view, consumer expert Bijan Mishra pointed out that advertisements cannot be misleading.

Real estate builder, R K Arora, Chairman, Supertech too thinks celebrities should not be responsible for product failures. He says, “Celebrity endorsements do not have much effect in real estate.”

Had that been the case there would not be any need to engage celebrities to endorse real estate brands. But a lot many do, so celebrity endorsements do have an effect on real estate. We have the Dhoni Amrapali case study.

The truth is, in real estate, almost every other developer fails to deliver product on time, and since it is not just one home but a lifestyle destination built in a large-scale project, several issues keep cropping up, inevitably delaying the project. I can very well see the disappearance of brand ambassadors in real estate if they are made liable for misleading ads.

But here’s another pertinent question to ponder over: Should celebrities be promoting a cause/product without believing in them and without being morally conscious about it?

With the government getting strict about celebrity endorsements and the consumers increasingly stooping to social media to air their grievances, the moral pinching could put quite a pressure on the roles essayed by brand ambassadors.

Perhaps this would act as a deterrent and in future celebrities would stick to their respective career roles as an actor, cricketer, artist, etc. and be less inclined to indulge in other areas where risk to their social position stood a chance.
So think twice, all ye celebrities, before you endorse a product.

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Updated Date: Apr 28, 2016 08:29:41 IST

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