Big Picture, Uncategorized

Misleading Ads: Onus on Celebrity Endorsers Also

Celebrities endorsing various brands or companies might have to face some trouble in the coming time if the amendments proposed to the Consumer Protection Act are carried out in the next session of Parliament. They will put onus on celebrities in case of misleading ads. The issue came into light after Maggie noodles were found with presence of excess lead and monosodium glutamate. The amendments proposed by the Report of the Parliamentary Committee on Food, Consumer Affairs and Public Distribution have been approved by the Ministries of Consumer Affairs and Law.

Provisions:

According to the official amendment made to the Consumer Protection Bill in 2015;

Whoever makes an endorsement which is false or misleading and prejudicial to the interest of any consumer shall be punishable with imprisonment for a term which may extend to two years and with fine which may extend to ten lakh rupees; and for the second and subsequent offences, be punishable with imprisonment for a term which may extend to five years and fine which may extend to fifty lakh rupees”.

  1. The amendment has put up a harsher mode of punishment for the celebrities endorsing a brand through misleading ads. It redefines endorsement as one of the features of advertisement thereby making celebrities liable as well.
  2. Endorsement under Section 17B is defined as “any message, verbal statement, demonstration” or depiction of the name, signature, likeness or other identifying personal characteristics of an individual or the name or seal of an organization “which make the consumer to believe that it reflects the opinion, findings or experience of the person making such endorsement”.
  3. Section 75B has provision for liability of an endorser, i.e. a celebrity would be liable if the endorsement is “false or misleading” and prejudices the interests of consumers and “mistaken belief” by the celebrity cannot be taken as a defence. He/she could also be liable in case it is proved that he or she had falsely claimed to have been using a product, be it noodles, RO or shampoo.
  4. According to the draft, cognizance of an offence under the provision can be taken by the court only on a written complaint by or on behalf of the Central Consumer Protection Authority. The provision to section 75B allows a celebrity to escape liability if it is proved that he/she took reasonable precautions and exercised due diligence before endorsing the product or service.

Views and Counterviews:

  1. Consumers tend to believe advertisements promoted by eminent personalities or celebrities blindly. But when the unfair trade practices are exposed the celebrities are quick in disassociating themselves with the products/companies they were representing.
  2. While a celebrity has the ability to influence masses, he/she is also morally responsible of leading the people in right direction.
  3. Endorsers must be accountable for the ads they do. They are mature enough and know exactly what they are doing. Due diligence is required in the question of making wise choices. Consumers are more important than anyone else and this legislation takes care of this fact.A jail sentence might not be recommended by many, but a hefty fine should be levied.
  4. It has to be understood that a celebrity might be a perfectionist in his field but he is no specialist. He/she has been signed by the brand for his ability to connect to the masses only by lending his/her face and voice. For example: If a DTH is being advertised by a celebrity and its services are disrupted for some reasons, then the celebrity of course cannot be held guilty of misleading the people.
  5. If a celebrity has to be booked for misleading ads, then all media channels that played the ad should also be punished and similarly entire manufacturing unit or creator too as everyone made profit out of it. So, if the authorities need to do consumer protection, then it has to be full-fledged and cannot just attack celebs. Trust for a brand is a combination of several factors and celebrity is one of them. Liability is something that cannot be shifted to one person only.
  6. Before going to endorse a brand, the celebrities should ask for the tests or verifications that have been done by the company.

At present authorities like ASCI (Advertising Standard Council of India) are engaged in scrutiny of ads i.e. after they are made. What is required is pre checking before the ads are run in the media and a national advertising standard which clearly lays down rules and regulations regarding advertisements. There is no control of ASCI over ads running in the print media or internet. So, a large chunk of ads remain unchecked as well. The provisions at present in the amendments leave a lot of grey area in terms of the words like “mistaken beliefs” and “misleading”. Evidence is required to prove a celebrity guilty whether he/she knowingly did an ad or not. In the present scenario what is apparent is the fact that a moral onus can be created on the celebrity but creating a legal one might be difficult.

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