Pierce Brosnan endorsing Pan Bahar
Pierce Brosnan created ripples last month when he appeared as an ambassador for an Indian paan masala brand. Further, he left everyone flummoxed when he admitted to not knowing what he was being the face of. The former Bond went ahead to express shock at how the brand had allegedly misled him. While the two are yet to clear the tangle, the government on its part is ensuring that consumers are not at the receiving end of an ambassador’s ignorance. On Wednesday, a Group of Ministers (GoM) made a proposal stating that celebrities could face a fine of Rs 10 lakhs, and a year’s ban on advertising any such products. For a subsequent “offence”, the celebrity could be fined a whopping Rs 50 lakh, and a three-year ban for supporting “unrealistic” claims. The proposal is yet to be cleared by the Union cabinet.
The advertising industry, however, isn’t gung-ho about the idea. Arun Iyer, chief creative officer at Lowe Lintas, asserts that it isn’t justified to discriminate against public figures if the brand isn’t fulfilling its promise. He says, “I find the proposal vague in its current form. How do you define ‘misleading’? How is the celebrity supposed to know the technicalities of the brand he/she is endorsing and do his/ her own research on the product? For instance, what would Madhuri Dixit know about the packet of noodles containing lead more than the permissible limits?”
Madhuri Dixit and Amitabh Bachchan were in the line of fire too last year, when the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) had banned the popular two-minute Maggi noodles. In April this year, M.S. Dhoni was forced to discontinue his services as a brand ambassador for realty firm after residents of the housing project asked him to dissociate himself from the brand. Filmmaker and ad man Vinil Matthew believes it isn’t fair to make the brand and the ambassador pay the same price. “If the claims made by the brand doesn’t stand true, then the brand shouldn’t be allowed to advertise in the first place. If paan masala is being advertised, you can’t blame the actor for spreading cancer. Celebrities shouldn’t be made the scapegoat, simply because they are easy targets,” he says referring to Brosnan’s campaign.
Speaking of celebrities, the last few days have had pictures of Prime Minister Narendra Modi splashed across ads of e-wallets. While it isn’t ‘endorsing’ in the traditional sense, it does associate itself with the PM, effectively the most powerful man in the country. “Tomorrow if I have a problem with either of these services, can I sue the Prime Minister given that he is the brand ambassador?” questions M.S. Gopal, creative director at Tailor.
There is a silver lining, however. As Amer Jaleel, chairman and chief creative officer at Mullen Lintas points out, “If the bill comes into force, agencies will be under pressure to ensure that the approvals are clean. The bigger and larger issue here is to target the companies/brands making false claims.”
But if the proposal must come into effect, it may need a little sharpening on the edges, suggests Sujoy Roy, senior creative director at Ogilvy and Mather. “Celebrities form an integral part of the brand and if such a bill comes into play, they might become wary of advertising certain brands. Celebrities may even increase their fees due to the risks involved. The bill needs to be sharpened to state terms on which kind of products can be endorsed. After all, what may be unrealistic for me, may not be unrealistic for the brand.”