Celebrities have no moral responsibility about products they endorse | editorials | Hindustan Times
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Celebrities have no moral responsibility about products they endorse

In true Bond style, actor Pierce Brosnan ambushed India earlier this month when he appeared in a full page advertisement for Pan Bahar, a product many associate with a highly addictive form of chewing tobacco. The advertisement caused a stir, forcing the actor to condemn what he called the “unauthorised and deceptive” use of his image to promote the mouth freshener. He has also asked Ashok & Co, the company that produces Pan Bahar, to remove his image from all their advertising.

editorials Updated: Oct 22, 2016 14:26 IST
Pierce Brosnan

A newspaper with a front page advertisment of former 007 star Pierce Brosnan endorsing a mouth freshener. (AFP file)

In true Bond style, actor Pierce Brosnan ambushed India earlier this month when he appeared in a full page advertisement for Pan Bahar, a product many associate with a highly addictive form of chewing tobacco. The advertisement caused a stir, forcing the actor to condemn what he called the “unauthorised and deceptive” use of his image to promote the mouth freshener. He has also asked Ashok & Co, the company that produces Pan Bahar, to remove his image from all their advertising.

Read: Distressed by Pan Bahar’s ‘deceptive use’ of image: Pierce Brosnan

Industry sources say the company might have shelled out a million dollars for a day’s work of the actor. “Considering that the agreement is based on per day usage, the deal would be in range Rs 5.5 crore to Rs 7 crore for a shoot,” said Indranil Das Blah, chief operating officer at Kwan Entertainment told HT. “For company, it is a celebratory deal as a product which is otherwise considered down-market, gets a classy and global feel. Brosnan, on other hand, gets more visibility in India — apart from good money.”

Read: Pierce Brosnan’s apology seems half hearted and lame: Piyush Pandey

The row has again raised the question of responsibility of such celebrity endorsers about the product they are advertising.

Last month, the Union government accepted the recommendations of a parliamentary panel to impose accountability on celebrities for endorsing products and for misleading advertisements.

According to the Section 75B of the new Bill that is in the works, any “false or misleading” endorsement, which is “prejudicial to the interest of any consumer” will now be a penal offence, punishable with a jail term of up to two years and a fine of Rs 10 lakh for the first such offence, and imprisonment of five years along with a fine of Rs 50 lakh for the second and subsequent offences.

Read: Not shaken nor stirred: Why Pierce Brosnan has bonded with an Indian pan masala

The issue of ‘celebrity responsibility’ caught national attention after captain of Indian cricket team, Mahendra Singh Dhoni, had to terminate his contract with the real-estate firm Amrapali earlier this year. He ended his association with the company after complaints from Amrapali residents emerged and a social-media campaign about people being defrauded by the builder.

Read: Dhoni quits as realty firm’s brand ambassador after Twitter uproar

What would the mechanism to prosecute celebrities? According to the Bill, a court shall take cognizance of offences regarding false and misleading advertisements only after a complaint is made by the Central Consumer Protection Authority. The authority, a new executive agency, will be established to fill “an institutional void in the regulatory regime extant”, a news report said.

While the intent of the government could be good, “misleading” is a vague and open-ended term. Take the case of Dhoni. He did end his contract with the realty firm but how would he have known that the company would fail to honour its commitment? If it was so easy to determine the intention of the company then the first to exit the deal would have been the home buyers.

Or take the case of celebrity tourism mascots for states. Would you blame a celebrity if the state government ends up doing something ridiculous? Or for that matter, will Incredible India brand mascots held responsible if tourists face a problem in the country?

The same argument holds true for Brosnan. What’s the point of shooting the messenger when the State itself is coy about taking any tough action against makers of pan masala products to protect health of public? Isn’t it earning substantial revenue from them?

Celebs endorse brands for money. Don’t make them responsible for the efficacy of the product.