A Bihar court’s order to authorities to file an FIR against Bollywood stars Amitabh Bachchan, Madhuri Dixit and Priety Zinta for being brand ambassadors of Maggi noodles doesn’t mark the first time that actors have faced legal problems for endorsing controversial products.
Authorities at the Centre too have said that action could be taken against the actors if advertisements featuring them are found to be misleading.
The connection between stars and advertisements goes back almost to the birth of cinema and the favourites of the silver screen have been used by manufacturers and big businesses to plug products as diverse as cosmetics and real estate.
But in 2012, authorities in Maharashtra served notices to newspapers and TV channels after Food and Drug Administration official Mahesh Zagade chanced upon stars endorsing dietary supplements that helped overcome sexual problems while channel surfing one night.
The advertisements featured products with names such as Power Prash and Shakti Prash – a play on chyawanprash, an ayurvedic health mix – that could help tackle problems like erectile dysfunction.
Zagade issued notices to 65 newspapers and four news channels because he believed the advertisements featuring stars like Kashmira Shah flouted the law. “I asked 77 police stations from Dahisar to Colaba to register complaints against them,” he was quoted as saying at the time by The Telegraph.
In the same year, actor Govinda received a notice from the FDA for promoting an ayurvedic oil that promised to cure aches and pains.
Also in 2012, a court in Hyderabad directed police to file a case against actor Genelia D’Souza for promoting a real estate firm that was accused of cheating. D’Souza said it was a “one-off” shoot done in 2006.
Even Hollywood stars have fallen foul of the law over their advertisements. In 1990, veteran actor Lloyd Bridges – the father of Jeff Bridges - agreed to take unspecified financial responsibility for a commercial in which he endorsed a company that bilked investors out of millions of dollars.
The late actor agreed to a confidential settlement approved by a US Bankruptcy Court with several investors who sued him after sinking money into two Illinois companies before the firms filed for bankruptcy, the Los Angeles Times reported at the time.
The firms were found to be involved in illegal schemes in which investors' money was used to pay off prior investors.
Actor George Hamilton, also made commercials for one of the two firm, was also sued by investors and reached an out-of-court settlement.
In 1981, singer Pat Boone was ordered to help pay refunds to unsatisfied users of an acne medicine he endorsed. Boone had earlier signed a consent agreement with the Federal Trade Commission, which said this was the first time a product endorser agreed to be personally accountable for advertising claims.
In China, authorities amended the Advertising Law in 2011 to hold celebrities responsible for advertising fake products. The move came after authorities recalled Qumei capsules, a weight-loss product, as they were found to contain the banned drug sibutramine.
Many customers complained they started taking the capsules after watching commercials with female stars Gong Li and Fan Bingbing.