Thursday, January 29, 2009


Nightmare times to knock on guilty celebrity-endorsed doors… Jail for brand ambassadors! Hefty fine for companies! 4Ps B&M's Monojit Lahiri investigates...

Okay guys, the sublime, never-ending and blissful honeymoon that the celeb Brand Ambassadors elite club [read: Bollywood & cricket stars] enjoyed, pocketing insane mega-bucks by endorsing brands for companies, could have hit a killer road-block! The new Companies Bill 2008 proposes to toss any – or every – celeb into the slammer for up to three years, if found guilty of being party to propagate misleading claims and inducing customers to buy the product advertised. The companies involved are under the scanner as well. If found guilty, they will have to shell out a cool Rs.50 lakh [from a piddly Rs.1 lakh, earlier] in fine, for cheating and frauding the unguarded consumer. However, there is one bright spark. The Prosecution will have to ‘conclusively prove’ that the celeb endorser was aware he/she was making a false statement or representation – or that he/she did what he/she did, without ascertaining the facts.

The ad-frat, industry & celeb-management guys appear dumbstruck at what, they believe, is a ‘draconian’ move. Hot-shot photographer Atul Kasbekar leads the charge by going on record stating, “This is ridiculous! How on earth can a celeb be held responsible for worms in the brand of chocolate he endorses?!” Sanotsh Desai, head honcho of the Future Group, believes that the dice is – very unfairly – loaded against the celebs. “A penalty of Rs.50 lakh for the company and jail sentence for the celebrity is absurd.”

Anuja Chauhan, Executive Creative Director, JWT (whose debut novel The Zoya Factor is making big waves with the chick-lit diwanas) brings her own spin to the table. “I think its a good idea... specially if the brand endorser is endorsing the brand as himself... as in as Shahrukh Khan as opposed to as Rahul/Raj, or as Amitabh Bachchan as opposed to as Dadaji or whatever... and specially when the brand is targeting a lower or more rural SEC of consumer who truly take what the celebrity says to be the Gospel Truth. When some international brand comes to India and tries to woo me, I don’t know the brand, I just know the endorser. He’s the guy I totally believe in, he’s the one who introduces me to the brand and vouches for it. It’s like a friend introducing a stranger to you. So if the stranger takes you for a ride, you will go to your friend only, and say, yaar tooney toh mujhe duba hi diya...”

Just-exited-from-Ogilvy, Creative Director, Titus Upputuru offers his take. “There are advocates in India whose daily job is to pick up stuff that they deem to be incorrect of offensive. I remember I did this ad when I was with TBWA. It was against marble excavation. I wrote a headline that said ‘Somebody please stop this guy from hitting his mother on the head repeatedly with the hammer.’ Now that was supposed to be in the context of mother earth and stuff. But a huge hullabaloo was created saying we are encouraging violence against mothers. Now isn’t that crazy? And we had no option but to stop the next lot of releases. I guess there should be a body that has better representation from the industry who have the discernment to check if the ad is really misleading.”
Ujjal Sinha, CEO of the Kolkata-based ad agency, Genesis, believes that it is more posturing than the real thing. “I would like to see who or which body has the guts to throw Big B, SRK or Sachin Tendulkar in the cooler! Does every promise that they dish out through their endorsements to attract the desired response, resonate with solid facts that can be proved? Highly unlikely.” That at least something (at long last) has been done in this “surreal area” seems to please school teacher Radha Iyer. The 30-year-old believes that it could well work as a ‘warning’ to both companies and celeb endorsers, forever doing their bindaas, irresponsible number in this space. “Hopefully, they will look before they leap,” she adds.

Are they? Will they?

As this goes into print, Sani Fresh has signed on TV star, Saakshi Tanwar as their brand ambassador; Bollywood’s new sensation, Asin [Ghajini] has been scooped up by Tata Sky and Shahid Kapur has signed the dotted line for VIP travel gear brand. Is there a brand-fit between product profile and celeb profile? Will the consumer product promise really deliver the goods… or will misleading claims, riding on red-hot celeb-endorsers, continue to blaze away? Authoritative and high profile voices have lauded this move and are of the belief that it would definitely create “transparency between all parties involved as also encourage ad agencies to get genuine clients. It would also work as an effective filter and weed out irresponsible hustlers, while protecting consumers, ad agencies, companies and celeb endorsers from getting duped.”

Rhetoric or resolve? Only time will tell… in the meantime stand by for a fresh slew of celeb endorsements with mobile number pay cheque fees! Oh, also take a close look at prisons in your friendly neighbourhood lock-up for a whole new and starry version of Jailhouse Rock!