Thursday, April 21, 2011

Is Brand Endoresment About Ethics … or Consumer Connect?

In other words, should Celebrities Worry about Ethics while Endorsing Brands? Should they be Answerable to calls of ‘Political Correctness’ while becoming brand ambassadors? Or should they be Simply allowed to do what they are best at – Attracting Attention for The Brand – and not be Questioned beyond that?

Squeaky-clean cricket icon Sachin Tendulkar’s firm and categorical no-no to endorsing a big-buck liquor endorsement deal must have surely fetched him an additional zillion fans, mothers, bhabis, dadis and nanis heading the list! To brush aside Rs.20 crores for the sake of principles (in today’s blatantly materialistic and consumerist world) is something not many other celebrities would be able to do? However, the question that then pops its head out in a provocative fashion is: Is product endorsement about ethics or consumer connect? Do fans give a damn about ethics and morality of their favourite celebs when purchasing or selecting a brand? If the Little Master, actually, did greenlight a liquor brand endorsement deal, would his clean-cut, decent image really be hit for a six? Should celebrities even be answerable on this parameter?

Delhi-based theatre director and actress Lushin Dubey says that any celebrity has to be “very cautious and intelligently discriminating.” She acknowledges the fact that she has a certain image with her fans and therefore has a responsibility to not let them down by portraying or depicting something that may shock, surprise or outrage them. “I don’t smoke; but even if I did, I would rather endorse a classy wine than a cigarette, because it would send the wrong signals in every way... This is beside the fact that cigarette smoking is injurious to health. As for wine, my doc says it’s fine!” says Dubey with a laugh. However, the flamboyant iconoclast Prahlad Kakkar believes most of all this is garbage & poppycock as he tells 4Ps B&M, “Which century are we living in guys? As a celeb (cricketer, film star, whatever), who told you that your fans and the public really believe or expect you to be the most seedha-saadha, god-fearing, family-loving character, or else you are doomed to burn in hell?” The hot-shot ad film-maker firmly believes that today’s readers, viewers, listeners and consumers are intelligent enough to figure out the truth for themselves and don’t need to be prompted, tutored, brainwashed or sold images of celebs that are (comically) hypocritical or way off-centre from the image they project.

“Glam babes and hot studs representing life in the dangerously fast lane would look like pathetic, ludicrous sissies and lame ducks endorsing milk, orange squash, or the untold ecstasy of Horlicks! Get real guys! If a celeb smokes or drinks, what’s wrong in getting him to endorse the same? Haven’t SRK, Akshay Kumar, Dharmendra, Bhajji, Shilpa Shetty, Yuvi and Dhoni, in the past, endorsed liquor brands? Haven’t Akshay, Jackie Shroff and Kay Kay Menon, sometime back, endorsed the poison-weed? What’s the big deal – aren’t these guys still around?” says Kakkar.

But the London-based Bikram Ray, an oriental studies exponent, believes it’s a tough one. “While Kakkar certainly has a point about new-age consumers/fans being less puritanical and hysterical on the ethics/morality button than in the past, the fact is, somewhere, something’s gotta give! Remember the Tiger Woods explosion and deadly fallout (from fans to advertisers) once his serial infidelities blitzed the media? Woods was the model champ... until he strayed. Agreed, endorsing booze in 2011 is – should be, at least – totally innocent and a non-issue. But for celebrities (like Sachin) with sparkling reputation, their fan-base being what it is, and India being what it is, feathers will be ruffled, questions will be asked and a mountain will be made out of a molehill, yaar! Why even go through all that?” asks Ray. Social commentator Ananya Chatterjee is hugely amused and believes that there is – for a large number of blind fans – a false sense of herd-mentality and morality at play. “Does having a drink make you a drunkard? By the same token, endorsing a brand of liquor should hardly be an earth-shattering, breaking-news item prompting fans to reach for smelling salts, ring up ambulances or head for the puja-room!” says Ananya.

Very recently, Ranbir Kapoor refused to endorse a fairness cream brand, apparently because he felt strongly against it as the brand promoted stereotypes. But the same Ranbir Kapoor has in the past admitted to having been into alcohol, even drugs. He, as did other celebs, also recently quite easily accepted an award from the Teachers liquor brand. Isn’t all that a paradoxical opposite to his fairness cream stand? What about the cold drink commercial that he does? Aren’t carbonated soft drinks supposed to be unhealthy to kids? So what gives?

Well, finally it comes to the fact that when a celebrity decides to endorse or not to endorse a brand due to their personal choices, they are simply exercising their freedom of speech (and action). Says Shubhoshekhar Bhattacharjee, CEO, Planman Motion Pictures, “If they do endorse a politically incorrect brand like cigarettes or alcohol, blame the government for allowing the product to sell rather than shooting the messenger. Celebrities should have the complete freedom to make their own independent choices of endorsing any and every brand that is legally allowed to be sold. If society has any issue, it cannot ostracise or judge.”

In a country where cricketers and movie stars are idolised, worshipped, venerated, revered, and where – despite galloping consumerism, materialism and urbanisation – an indescribable puritanical schizophrenia exists which challenges all canons of logic and rationale. And then there’s the icon Sachin – “the original Mr. Clean,” as per actress Shreya Jha – who creates his own unsurpassable moral benchmarks and standards. And to expect a mere celebrity to follow Sachin’s path would be equal to asking a mortal to play God.


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