According to a parliamentary recommendation, celebrities should be fined and even jailed if they are involved in misleading advertisements.
In a report on consumer protection bill 2015, parliament committee has recommended fines up to INR 5 million, or even more, and jail for five years or more for offenders making false claims about products or services in advertisements.
As per the suggestions made by the committee, celebrities endorsing products in misleading advertisements must not be allowed to escape without any penalties.
“Several eminent public personalities or celebrities who are honoured with national awards such as Padma Shri, Padma Bhushan and Bharat Ratna for excelling in various walks of life are often engaged as brand ambassadors for promoting various products. Such personalities are deployed to make advertisements, which are often misleading by making unrealistic claims. The consumers tend to believe such advertisements promoted by eminent personalities or celebrities blindly. However, when the unfair trade practices are exposed, the celebrities are quick to dissociate themselves with the products/companies they were hitherto representing,” the committee said in its report, referring to an incident where Indian cricket captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni dissociated himself from a real estate company following complaints by flat buyers about claims made by the company.
“The committee strongly feels that misrepresentation of a product, especially a food product, should be taken very seriously, considering the influence of celebrities and high net-worth individuals or companies. The existing laws are not deterrent enough to discourage manufacturers or publishers from using such personalities for misleading advertisements. The committee, therefore, recommends that stringent provisions may be made in the Bill to tackle misleading advertisements, as well as to fix liability on endorsers/celebrities,” the report said.
Fines and punishments
For a first time offence, the celebrity may be penalised with either a fine of INR 1 million and imprisonment of up to two years, or both. The penalty should be increased to a fine of INR 5 million and up to five years of imprisonment for the second offence.
The consumer affairs ministry is piloting the Bill and the committee asked the ministry to update the bill with new provisions to strengthen it. It also called for legal teeth to the Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI) so that it can reduce down on misleading advertisements, force the advertiser to issue a corrective advertisement or take punitive action against the defaulting companies.
“ASCI has deposed before the parliamentary committee and made representations. The committee was happy with the work ASCI have been doing for decades as a self-regulator. Only help that we need is intervention by the regulator. The report, it appears, will add legal teeth to ASCI after the Bill comes in place,” said Shweta Purandare, secretary general of the ASCI.
The answerability of stars and renowned personalities as brand ambassadors came into limelight when Nestle India Limited’s Maggi Noodles were banned by food regulator for allegedly containing lead in access amounts. Some of its endorsers included Bollywood actors like Amitabh Bachhan, Madhuri Dixit and Preity Zinta.
“Organisations like ours, with credibility and with substantial due diligence of processes, will continue to attract good celebrities. In today’s time and age, authenticity is key for brands to appeal. Celebrities as endorsers need to align with the values of the brand and reflect it in reality,” said a Nestle India spokesperson.