Celebrity endorsers of brands can no longer afford to make cavalier choices. If they feature in an advertising campaign found to be misleading, they could be slapped with a fine or even end up in prison. According to the Consumer Protection Bill, 2019, which has just been passed by the Lok Sabha, such a fine could go up to ₹10 lakh. The bill also includes the provision of a jail term of up to five years for repeat offenders. For once, well-known personalities who are paid hefty sums to appear in ads cannot claim to be mere “models". They are selected mainly for their influence over fans, after all, and thus need to be fully aware of what they are urging people to open their wallets for.
The first thing that brand endorsers would need to do is check what constitutes a “misleading" claim. In some cases, the dividing line might look blurry. Exaggeration, done with humour, is a standard advertising technique; where exactly a claim begins to mislead customers is not easy to judge. Also, what about omissions? Commercial material rarely has space for caveats and fine print, and many cases boil down to a failure to disclose details of an offer.
That doesn’t mean that celebrities should take fright and withdraw from ad campaigns. It just means that an endorsement has to be genuine—of a product or service that the endorser actually uses and trusts. Above all, endorsers need to remember ad guru David Ogilvy’s classic words, “The consumer is not a fool, she’s your wife." Would one recommend a dodgy deal to one’s spouse? The same should hold for fans.