Now Brand Ambassadors accountable for misleading Ads
The issue of protecting consumers from false and misleading advertisements has been agitating the minds of the policymakers & consumers activists for long. Despite several laws and a self regulatory mechanism that prohibit misleading advertisements, consumers continue to be fed with false and exaggerated claims. The entry of celebrities from the field of sports and films in a big way has added several dimensions to this vexed issue, particularly the accountability of the brand ambassadors.
If the products promoted or endorsed by celebrities are found to be harmful or unhealthy, can they be held liable?. Yes. They should be, says the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Food, Consumer Affairs & Public Distribution constituted to study the Consumer Protection Amendment Bill 2015 and also the Central Consumer Protection Council.
In 103 page report, the Committee has strongly felt the need to tackle misleading advertisement and fix liability on endorsers/celebrities. It recommended that for the first time offense, the offender may be personalized with either of a fine of Rs. 10 lakh and imprisonment up to two years or both; for the second time offense, a fine of Rs. 50 lakh and imprisonment for 5 years and for subsequent offenses, the penalties may be increased proportionately based on the value of the sales volumes of such products or services.
The extent to which celebrities are liable for their promotion depends on the fact whether they are endorsing a product or acting as a spokesperson or they are used for testimonial purposes, where the liability is serious. At present, there is no specific law in the country to hold celebrities liable expect a provision in the Food Safety and Standards Act.
According to Section 53 of the Act, anybody who is endorsing a product which is misleading or deceiving would be liable under the law, not just celebrities. It also envisages penalty for misleading the public. Whether the celebrity uses the product he or she endorses, their fans believe so and buy the product. Hence, the endorsers have a fiduciary duty towards the consumers.
However, its argued that the celebrities has no role in manufacturing the product he promises. Celebrities are agents and cannot be held liable for detects in the product. Besides, celebrities enter into contracts or agreements with advertising agency and not the producer or the manufacturer. These agreements invariably protect celebrities through insurance. Another defence is that if the products endorsed are cleared by respective regulatory and statutory authorities, how can the celebrity be held responsible.
The Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI) is a self-regulatory body which has had some success in protecting consumers from misleading, advertisements. However, the Code of ASCI is voluntary and does not provide for penalizing the endorsers or the manufacturers who issue misleading advertisements.
At best, they may be asked to withdraw or modify the advertisement. In some cases, the celebrity have themselves taken a stand not to promote products which they feel are harmful or unhealthy.