Celebrity Endorsements: Biting Off More Than One Can Chew?

Celebrities Endorsing Products

Should celebrities be more responsible when they endorse products?

It is common to see celebrities endorse products without having ever used them or even without knowing about them. Pierce Brosnan, globally known as James Bond, “007”, from some of the most loved films in the British series of spy films based on the fictitious character of MI6 agent by the same name, has become the latest addition to the beleaguered league with his ‘classy’ endorsement for “Pan Bahar” – Pan Masala. He has expressed his distress for letting his image be used in a product that is notoriously popular in India due to its adverse effects on health. It is believed that using a product like Pan Bahar regularly can lead to cancer as well. One question that is being asked now is why has the famed actor expressed an apology. Is it because he did not read the whole agreement carefully when he signed it; or because his endorsement has caused his image to take some significant beating?

Was he misled?

A third possibility is also doing the rounds – was the former “007” misled? The television and print ads featuring the actor started to appear from earlier in October 2016 and ever since he has been criticized heavily in various quarters, with social media (read Twitter) being the most prominent name in this case. However, in a statement that appeared on October 21, Brosnan did clarify that he was led to believe that Pan Bahar was a tooth whitener-cum-breath freshener. It is here that one needs to ask why did he or his agency not find out about the product on the Internet. A simple Google search would have done the trick and saved everybody the trouble; yes, including the Twitteratti. Why, in the least, did he not taste it himself once before promoting it so cockily?

Dispute with Pan Bahar

Brosnan has already asked his image to be dropped from the said adverts — from both Print and TV — but Pan Bahar makers have made it clear that there has been no contract infringement in this case so far, stating that the star was fully aware of what he was endorsing. Brosnan said in an interview given exclusively to People magazine that he had only signed on for the mouth freshener, but his image was used for all their products including the ones containing tobacco — something he had not signed for. Pawan Jain, a director of Pan Bahar, has, in a statement, said that Pan Bahar and Pan Bahar Crystal Masala do not contain tobacco and that the brand itself does not have any tobacco-based product. However, even without tobacco its products can cause cancer among people.

Responsibilities as a celebrity

No matter what he may have said, it does bring up a critical question that has perhaps been asked for ages – should celebrities not be more responsible when it comes to endorsing a product? Always, is the answer. Should they not ask more questions about the product that they are being asked to lend their likeness to? Always. This seems to be something that escaped the attention of Brosnan. Then, there is the question of being responsible – ethically and morally – for what they are selling to millions of people.

Reaction of Piyush Pandey

Piyush Pandey, Creative Director and Executive Chairman of Ogilvy & Mather (India and South Asia), feels that the apology from Brosnan appears to be a sorry excuse and lacks utterly in conviction. While the public might be divided in its opinion on this, the Government of India certainly wishes that celebrities are more responsible when it comes to choosing such ads. It feels – and rightly so – that celebrities have the power to bring about major changes in the society and as such they need to be more responsible in their choices and actions.

Punitive steps?

The Indian Government has recently accepted the suggestions from a parliamentary panel regarding misleading adverts featuring celebrities. This happened a few months back and if the suggestions are implemented, then stars appearing in such fraudulent ads with bogus claims could find themselves in jail for five years or part with INR 50 lakh. Now, the question that needs to be asked is if the government is going after these stars since they are perceived as “soft targets”. Perhaps, it might not be wrong to assume that the government is asking celebrities to assume a greater degree of responsibility with regards to their choices considering the overall effect they can have on the society. At the same time, perhaps, it is also asking companies and ad agencies to be careful when they promote products to not make false claims. The said amendment to the Consumer Protection Act also shows the effect that celebrities have on the society. Under normal circumstances the government would not come forward and ask the society to maintain certain moral and ethical levels. However, when eminent individuals such as film stars misuse the power they have over the vulnerable common people, the state has no choice but to step in and correct the situation.

What’s actually happening?

Film stars in India are known to first appear in misleading advertisements and on top of that they keep associating themselves with the brand by not disavowing or dissociating from it when such products prove to be faulty and harmful. There are instances such as Shah Rukh Khan, who endorses any and everything under the sun and is quite proud about it, and MS Dhoni who had endorsed the real-estate brand, Amrapalli in the past. There are, however, several celebrities who have refused to endorse products in case they are dodgy. Govinda is one such example. He is said to personally use a product before actually promoting it. There are film stars who have stakes in the product they are endorsing. Some examples are Virat Kohli (Wrogn), Deepika Padukone (All About You in Myntra), and Karishma Kapoor (Baby Oye). The ownership ensures that when they are endorsing a product they have some investment in the same – it’s not a mere lip service that they are being paid to do.

(Disclaimer: The image/logo/brands used in this image are property of their respective owners and used here for identification purpose only. In no way use of these names/logos/ brands imply endorsement from or association with this website.)

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