MAGGI CASE: irresponsible celebrity endorsements

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The brand has attracted some of the biggest names in Bollywood as its brand ambassador over the years

Celebrity endorsement has been going on from the days when Kapil Dev used to announce to the viewers in Punjabi-English accent ‘Boost is the secret of my energy’.
Slogans used while endorsing for 2-minutes noodles by big celebrities like Amitabh Bachchan, Madhuri Dixit and Preity Zinta attract more consumers to it than it would be able to attract if such slogans had been uttered by a non-celebrity. It is the celebrities who bring the charm in the advertisement, reduce half of the marketing work for companies and attract numerous customers. It is a usual trend in India that people would love to follow what the celebrity says, and idolize them. Watching Shahrukh Khan applying fair and handsome on his face would fetch more customers than Vicco turmeric which is endorsed by a non celebrity, watching Katrina Kaif using Veet would definitely attract girls because every other girl in the country wants flawless skin like her and same is the case with Maggi.

Watching the fitness queen Madhuri who is not only a role model for girls but also for mothers, making her children eat Maggi after an exercise session will undoubtedly affect the minds of younger as well as older ones. So, there is no doubt that promotion of any product by such stars makes the product effective and its hold on the market gets stronger. The positive acceptance of celebrity endorsements is quite pervasive and it’s not surprising that more than 50% of commercial ads portray them. When a brand or product is promoted by a well-known personality, it helps to increase the volume of sales, creating a mutual benefit to the company and the celebrity. It is the influence of celebrity that the company wants to create otherwise, a company is not foolish to pay crores of rupees to famous actors and cricketers for endorsing their product which a non-famous artist would be ready to do in just thousands…

Brand ambassador Madhuri played an important role in the brand’s success

However whenever we watch an ad with a celebrity endorsing it we wonder whether he or she has also used it or not… That is the basic problem with celebrity investments in India. In India, there is no stipulation in any law that the celebrity must use or should have used the product himself before endorsing it. Thus, there are no strings attached to the celebrities’ “right to personality.”
The recent notices slapped by the food regulator and consumer forum upon Madhuri Dixit, Amitabh Bachhan and Preity Zinta in the wake of the Maggi controversy have resurrected the contentious issue of celebrity liability in misleading advertisements. Unbridled exploitation of the “right to personality” allows huge commercial benefits to celebrities as they allow third parties use (with the products) their names, images or voice or any other attribute of their personality in exchange for a hefty fee or royalty. In India there are no strings attached to their “right to personality”.

Unlike India, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), in the United States, is very strict about brand endorsements and has issued “Guides concerning the use of endorsements and testimonials in advertising”. While there is a general stipulation that “endorsements must reflect the honest opinions, findings, beliefs, or experience of the endorser,” the endorser can be held liable for false or unsubstantiated claims made in the due course of endorsement. In cases where the endorser represents that he uses the product, he must in fact have been a “bona user” of the product at the time the endorsement was given. In FTC vs Garvey (2004), the US Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit ace baseball player Steven Patrick Garvey was in the dock for an allegedly false and misleading advertisement of certain weight-loss products.

Amitabh led the Maggi campaign to greater success

However, the court found him not guilty because his endorsement claims about the efficacy of the product were based on his and his wife’s personal use of the product.  In India, there is no such stipulation in any law that the celebrity must use or should have used the product in question himself before the endorsement. Forget personal use, he is not even required to see or call for the scientific / test reports which form the basis of the claim. His endorsement contract is so replete with myriad indemnities that no personal liability can be imposed upon him in case of defective, injurious or harmful product or claim. How long will the law remain a silent spectator?

The controversy over lead and MSG content in Maggi noodles in excess of the permitted limit has assumed gigantic proportions. What started in one state (Uttar Pradesh) has spread like wildfire across the country, compounding problems for the 30-year-old mega brand from Nestle India.
Even as the brand is under intense scrutiny, the celebrity endorsers of Maggi – Madhuri Dixit, Amitabh Bachchan and Preity Zinta – are also feeling the heat. While Madhuri currently endorses the brand, Amitabh and Preity have been past brand ambassadors. The Government has said that strict action would be taken for any violation, including against the brand ambassadors of Maggi.

Sections 52 and 53 of the Food Standards and Safety Authority of India (FSSAI) Act prescribe the punishment for selling misbranded food and also for misleading advertisements. Section 53 prescribes that “any person who publishes, or is a party to the publication of an advertisement, which falsely describes any food or is likely to mislead as to the nature or substance or quality of any food or gives false guarantee shall be liable to a penalty which may extend to Rs 10 lakh.”

A Bihar court has ordered registration of an FIR against Madhuri Dixit, Amitabh Bachchan and Preity Zinta for endorsing Maggi. The Haridwar Food and Drug Administration has served a notice to Madhuri on the claims made in the Maggi ad. Reacting to the controversy, Madhuri tweeted: “Like most of India, I have enjoyed Maggi noodles for years. I was very concerned after recent reports and met with the Nestle team” / “Nestle explained that they always place the consumer first and have the highest quality standards” / “Nestle has reassured me that they adhere to stringent testing for quality and safety and are working with the authorities closely.”

Priety one of the earlier endorsers has been allegedly served a court notice.

Preity, too, took to Twitter to clarify her stand by saying: “Reading the news about me being sued for doing the Maggie (sic) commercial over 12 years ago? 12 years ago? How does that happen?”
Amitabh, on the other hand, said that he had he stopped promoting the brand two years ago and added that he would cooperate with what the law said.

The entire controversy is seen as having significant implications for celebrity brand endorsements in the future.
Even as the brand is under intense scrutiny, the celebrity endorsers of Maggi – Madhuri Dixit, Amitabh Bachchan and Preity Zinta – are also feeling the heat. While Madhuri currently endorses the brand, Amitabh and Preity have been past brand ambassadors. The Government has said that strict action would be taken for any violation, including against the brand ambassadors of Maggi.
At the outset, a notice to film stars for faulty products might look like a big joke, but misrepresentation of products, especially in the food sector, is a serious issue, and not as silly as many would like to believe. This is not the first time brand ambassadors have been pulled up for erroneous, misleading or outright false advertisements.
An FIR was filed against Genelia D’Souza for allegedly making false promises through ads and brochures for a real estate company in 2012.

In the year 20012 the Home Trade scam had the celebrity endorsement of three big celebrities, Sachin Tendulkar, Hrithik Roshan and Shah Rukh Khan. Having created not a single product, the company made away with thousands of crore rupees of investor money, and celebrity-endorsed brand building was a crucial part of their operation. Several insurance ads are alleged to have been making misleading claims in the past, and several insurance brands have celebrities like Irrfan Khan and Amitabh Bachchan endorse them. And it’s not just the world of high-flying celebrities endorsing mega-brands. Activists have also been speaking out against ads for sauna-belts, medicines, Hanuman-chalisa yantra and gem-stones on TV screens. In February last year, the Central Consumer Protection Council, the under the leadership of former Union Food Minister KV Thomas, decided unanimously to propose laws to hold celebrities endorsing products also liable for misleading advertisements.

However, there’s another take on this. When asked about her opinion on it, Vidya, during a promotional event of her forthcoming film ‘Hamari Adhuri Kahani’, told a news agency: “I don’t think that after a limit it’s an actor’s responsibility… because if I am endorsing a product, I can only find information to a certain extent, like, what sort of material has been used to make that particular product. But I cannot go to factory and make the product.”

Fridaybrands.com thinks that celebrities should be more careful while endorsing a product . While its true that they can be responsible to an extent, one caution all celebrities should while endorsing a brand is that they should use it at least once for a month before endorsing. Otherwise, there are chances that celebrities may get a bad name and the millions of Indians may suffer because they blindly believe film and sports personalities in India. So, it becomes all the more necessary that these stars responsibly endorse products and services.

COPYRIGHT FRIDAYBRANDS 2015

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