Misleading Ads, Celebrities, Accountability, and Self-Regulation
Most of us have been victims of deceptive advertising. This in itself is not quite surprising, considering the sheer volume of commercial messages that daily try to reach us one way or the other, via images that are intended to persuade/cajole/tempt. What we see and hear is the information most likely to persuade us – the fine print remains, well, the fine print. Companies may bury anything in the fine print – contradictory information, half information, additional cost, and so on. And when celebrities enter the picture, what brands achieve is not just immediate attention but also a more readily persuaded audience. As the thin line between fact and fiction blurs, the question is one of ‘how much responsibility where’.
Today, consumers come across more than 1,500 ads daily and celebrities lend huge credibility to brands and help in breaking clutter and drawing undivided attention of the target audience. Celebrities enjoy their share of mass adulation and appear more persuasive than ordinary people when they speak highly of certain commodities. Advertising involving celebrities is undoubtedly more popular than those without them. Logically then, if a celebrity speaks for a fake commodity, he or she should bear liability for the damages it may cause to consumers. Or, shouldn’t they?
Some critics feel celebrities are also ordinary human beings and so it's impossible for them to be
An advertisement becomes deceptive when it misleads people, alters the reality and affects buying behaviour. The deception may include a misrepresentation, an omission, or a practice that is likely to mislead.
aware of all aspects of new products. They do not have the means to examine the quality of certain products. Therefore, celebrities should not be held accountable for the products they speak for. If consumers buy the product only because a celebrity has endorsed it, they are not being wise. Ensuring product quality is the responsibility of producers and sales agents and also quality watchdogs, but has nothing to do with advertising spokespersons.
This debate picked up when actor Amitabh Bachchan created a furor with his lecture at Indian Institute of Management-Ahmedabad, where he said that he stopped endorsing Pepsi after a little girl asked him why he promoted something that her teacher termed as ‘poison’. Until then, he had been associated with the brand for eight years. Will this mean that celebrities will now check contents of the product before endorsing it?
Whether or not they want to, soon they may have to. In February this year, the Central Consumer Protection Council (CCPC), under the chairmanship of minister of consumer affairs, food & public distribution KV Thomas, decided to set up a subcommittee to suggest strategies to deal with erring advertisers. Among the concerns raised was peddling of products by celebrities.
Earlier on, in November 2012, the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) had issued notices to 38 top-selling brands asking them to withdraw their ‘misleading’ advertisements. The brands included Complan, which claimed that one could grow two times by using the product, and Kellogg’s, which claimed that ‘research shows that people who eat low-fat breakfast like Kellogg's Special K tend to be slimmer than those who don't.’