Celebrities in India today probably achieve a lot more commercial endorsement than their careers in acting or sports. No wonder this income stream is so powerful and profitable. From soft drinks to eliche, from creams to cars, celebrities have a disproportionately large presence in Indian advertising. It is well understood by advertisers that having a celebrity in the ad gets instant recognition and recall, justifying the million dollar deals. And celebrities, like the hungry at the buffet, make the most of it.
So what’s the problem?
The problem is that for a few (well, a lot) rupees, celebrities throw caution, and in some cases morals, to the wind. At the Advertising Standards Board of India, in the last year alone, we have processed more than 100 advertisements featuring high profile celebrities, which were deemed misleading. Only in a handful of cases have celebrities been able to establish that they have done any kind of due diligence with regard to the products they adopt. Under the new Consumer Protection Act, the government can hold these celebrities responsible for claims in ads, fined them, or even suspend them from future endorsements. Their only escape is whether they can demonstrate that they have performed due diligence to obtain legal or expert advice about the validity of the claims they support. Even with severe penalties, we see celebrities go ahead with all kinds of questionable endorsements without any formal due diligence procedures. Is this cruelty or misplaced confidence? Will they only wake up after a big celebrity has been fined or publicly suspended?
Brands also need to urge their supporters to do this due diligence because the shame of one campaign has a detrimental effect on all the brands that are endorsed by that celebrity.
Beyond the legal implications, the debate over morals and ethics is something celebrities often find themselves embroiled in. Consumers today hold celebrities to account for every word they utter, and every step they take. When actors and athletes agree to strict fitness regimes on junk food and soda, they are called in. Because it suggests that celebrities are more than willing to compromise their personal convictions for money. While they only eat organic avocados, they encourage their fans to eat the unhealthy stuff. A new generation of consumers is calling out these apparent contradictions. Even if one is a Badshah, Shaheen Shah or Khiladi, the backlash from the audience can be nerve-wracking.
In fact, celebrities are now known for the endorsements they reject as much as they are recognized for the products they endorse. A prominent cricketer who refused to adopt a soft drink or actresses who shied away from advertising for equity products gained new fans who praised their stance. Refuse some brands added to their personal brand image. Celebrities need to think carefully about the connections and conflicts between their personal brand and the brands they endorse.
Perhaps we’ll then see more due diligence, fewer retroactive apologies and fee returns for mistakes that seem obvious to everyone, except for celebrities and their management teams.
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