The Consumer Protection Bill introduced in the LokSabha in August 2015 replacing the 1986 version in a bid to modernize the law on consumer protection along the changing market conditions, proposes to promote, protect and enforce the rights of the consumer thereby establishing product liability action against erring companies in case of any faulty manufacture or service or deceptive marketing of a product causing physical injury or property damage to the consumer. It has also come up with a task force called Central Consumer Protection Authority (CCPA) which will act against unfair trade practices and aid in enforcing recall, refund and return of products. The bill aims at easing the consumer disputes redressal mechanism and speeding up the disposal of complaints, enabling consumers to file e-complaints and have access to the consumer courts from within their homes.
The new legislation proposes to fix definite accountability upon those involved in misleading marketing of products which would hold even celebrities accountable for endorsing misleading ads with dubious functionality of product. But the bill has drawn a lot of criticism from the Bollywood fraternity as the bill in its current form proposes penalties with a 5years jail and 50lakhs fine if the product endorsed by the celebrity is found to be adulterated or without the actual functional values promised in the ad, however this bill is still pending and the Ministry of Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution, under Mr. Ram Vilas Paswan has argued its good intentions and assured to incorporate the best practices followed across the globe and that the recommendations of the parliamentary committee will be discussed in the winter session.
One might wonder as to why shoot the messenger when ironically companies are permitted to manufacture the kind of goods and services that offers little or no health benefits to the consumer, and the absurd fact that when there is a hazardous product allowed to sit on the shelf why is there so much hue and cry about statutory warnings, disclaimers or objection to promotional celeb opinions, when the celebs are only marketing for an agreed remuneration, so where is the harm?
The splurging existence of lethal or harmful products is often a direct outcome of an interwoven nexus of predatory product companies, business tycoons, world politics, Governments and bankers, hence attempting to ban, eradicate or resolve any which would not yield the desired result of public health with immediate effects, as its implementation requires global and national consensus. And this involves a lot of heckling that instigates dissenting voices of individual choice, affecting jobs, revenues and taxes and the overall economy. Because it is the market dynamics of these powerful predatory brands to exploit to the fullest the buying motivation of a consumer. Hence Governments of developing nations have often chosen it as best to create awareness and accountability which is found the best way to control and curtail the use of harmful or dubious products because burying the problem completely requires a nation to become a robust global supremacist.
The ad industry is the creative front for building the brand share of any given product that go on to sell their product stories to capture and influence positively the purchase decisions of the consumer. And these stories when told with conquering conviction and credibility with memes or messages, real or unreal yet when dipped in vivid graphics with a dash of spunk and glamor in the form of a celebrity, can certainly make an emotional connect with unbelievable surge in sales!
Whether we like it or not the multimillion dollar ad industry has reinvented the potential of believable storytelling with alarming ease thereby reducing consumers into gullible gulpers who end up consuming all that drifts across in the market sea of products.
One might disagree on the argument about the influencing power of celebrities when it comes to our product choices and may discard it as a relative phenomenon that depends largely on how well informed or intelligent an individual is, but the reality on ground is we live in a scenario where celluloid celebs are treated like demigods, where large masses are still mostly ill-informed or illiterate or both or educated ignoramuses who blindly believe their favorite celebs.
Celebs portray societal stories on reel life hence can influence consumer behavior, styles, fashions especially among youngsters.
From Madhuri’s permed curls to Britney Spear’s low waist jeans, Salman’s earrings or Dhoni’s hairstyles and Kohli’s fashion sense, people never tire of imitating them. When the movie Chandni was released everyone around were seen wearing white chudidar suits and the Jodha-Akbar jewelry is still an obsessive trend however we have not delved deep into any mechanism of ascertaining if each and every stone on a readymade piece of jewelry is a real diamond but trust is what keeps the sales surging.
And it is this trust and beliefs in conventional brand standards that can be played with and manipulated easily. Not that all products are faulty or deceptive but a little awareness and appropriate law will help keep checks and balances in place.
Celebrities act as a bridge between expectations of the consumer and the exact attribute the company wants to market cashing upon the suitability of their image, hence celebrity endorsements are more influential. One may easily relate to Sachin sharing his Boost secret or Hema Malini selling pure water.
Although the celebrity is a calculated part of the marketing strategy of the product and not directly involved in its quality checking or technical competence, the brand is selling a promise and the celebrity is endorsing its intended effects/results for a monetary return, hence it becomes imperative upon the celebrity to own up for any dubious information or misinformation they may knowingly or unknowingly promote to the masses who have nourished the images of these celebrities by spending handsomely from their hard earned moneys.
While certainly it is one’s free volition to invest on a product, studies suggest that visual representations have a phenomenal message retaining impact on consumer minds and can increase engagement considerably. Our brains process visuals faster and retains and transmits much faster when communicated with visual integration, as 90% of information transmitted to the brain is visual, 70% sensory receptors are in the eyes and 50% of your brain is active in visual processing!
It is for this reason that popular/catchy faces who can capture attention spans are pitched for product promotion as visual representation has atrocious effects of hastily convincing the consumer in a market.
Many celebrities openly endorse tobacco, pan masala and gutka, the crimes of which is a sin against humanity exclaim Cancer surgeons and plead actors not to mislead the youth as its booming sales is a direct result of star endorsements even when gestured subtly in movies. The International Journal of Cancer Epidemiology published that the rate of mouth cancer incidence amongst people in the age group 25-49 years was extremely high between 1995-2009 when Gutka was promoted highly.
In the US there was a lawsuit on a probiotics yogurt company as the product was alleged to be bereft of its acclaimed benefits, the case was dismissed in favor of the product just like how aerated drinks get away normally and the celebrities involved just slip off once the food and drugs authority send notices. A sugar free product was allegedly found to be containing sugar. Today many shampoos, conditioners, face creams and baby products have toxic carcinogenic ingredients but they are passed off with ample kickbacks and complicated chemical names as a selling strategy. A herbal product with its vegetarian green mark, that once claimed to reduce belly fat was found to contain gelatin which is typically obtained from cattle hides. Another stretch marks removing cream had caused acute allergies and blisters when washed with antiseptic lotions. The list goes on and many of these products have celebrities endorsing them.
Criminality of their endorsement may sound going overboard but when these celebs are so careful to chart their career graphs and image makeovers while selecting a story for their cast, why can’t they stop and think before endorsing a dubious claim that has direct implications on the wellbeing of the society.
Here are some celebrity brand endorsement rates for you:
Sachin Tendulkar was paid 12crores for endorsing Fiat Palio
Aamir Khan’s Snapdeal contract was worth Rs.30 crores and the star is also said to charge Rs.5 crores a day to shoot.
Shah Rukh Khan is believed to charge Rs.8-10 crores for a campaign, Rs.3-4 crores a day.
Salman Khan charges Rs.7 to 10 crores for an endorsement and Rs.3 – 4 crores a day to shoot.
Akshay Kumar’s endorsement fees is around the Rs.5-6 crores.
Deepika Padukone charges Rs.7-8 crores for an endorsement and Kareena Kapoor at Rs.3-4 crores.
Virat Kohli’s Audi deal this year was worth Rs.5 crores, he also has a Rs.30 crores three-year deal with Adidas.
Mahendra Singh Dhoni charges Rs.10-12 crores per campaign
It is paradoxical that these very stars who mint crores couching on stardom that we decorated them with, are hesitant to own up any social or moral responsibilities before endorsing a product.
If there are any technical glitches or adulteration in the product then yes the manufacturers of that product are responsible but when they hire a celebrity as a spokesperson of the product, it is only because the celebrity is seen as a role model for many!
In such a scenario why should a celebrity not be held responsible when they are making money at our cost?
While it is true that people in the glamor field may not be equipped to analyze or ascertain the quality or check for technicalities or adulterations but there are people like Amitabh Bachchan who stopped endorsing Pepsi when he was encountered by a kid who asked him as to why he was promoting the soft drink which her teacher branded as poison(it is another thing that he did suffer from acute abdominal problems because of alleged excessive consumption of aerated drinks), he even tells his fellow actors to use discretion and study the product before endorsing them, Pullela Gopichand turned down an offer for soft drinks giant because he could not endorse something he did not believe in, Kangana Ranaut refused to endorse Fairness cream brand because she was embarrassed and ashamed that a nation of brown people was hell bent on appearing pale and picking something like bleaching which was totally unhealthy.
According to section 17 of current revised consumer protection bill any message, verbal statement or any other form of depiction to show a celebrity’s likeness for a product, which leads the consumer to believe that it reflects the celebrity’s opinion, finding or experience is punishable if the product is found to be adulterated or if the promising claim is found not to be delivering upon its indicated and intended functional benefits.
While Saif Ali Khan selling Macho underwear and baniyans may not really make any difference to anyone but when youth icons like Priyanka, Ajay Devgn who have large mass appeal, endorse a Pan Masala or Sharukh endorses a mardo wali fairness cream or if Akshay endorses a Cigarette brand then it does corrupt many minds misleading them to associate an unhealthy addiction as status symbol! Remember, they are doing a job that too an endorsing one, for a remuneration, hence are definitely accountable for their job! What’s your take??