Is it fair to blame celebrities who endorse a brand if things go wrong? The jury is out on the issue and the brand world is watching how things pan out in the Maggi noodles case.
On Tuesday, Food and Consumer Affairs Minister Ram Vilas Paswan said that celebrities associated with misleading ads on the nutrition value of Maggi noodles should also be held responsible, while reports emerged of brand ambassadors expected to face court cases.
Actor Preity Zinta, one of Maggi’s previous brand ambassadors, tweeted on Wednesday, “Reading the news about me being sued for doing the Maggie (sic) commercial over 12 years ago? 12 years ago? How does that happen?” Amitabh Bachchan has reportedly also clarified that he had stopped endorsing Maggi nearly two years ago.
However, celebrity managers say if these stars are found liable, the contours of endorsement contracts are likely to change, bringing in more due diligence as well as clauses to protect celebrities.
Indranil Das Blah, partner at celebrity management firm, CAA-Kwan, said most contracts are signed after due diligence and before signing on the dotted line, especially if the products are new. In addition, there are clauses in the contracts signed between brands and celebrities that do not make them liable if the product is found unsafe.
“Nearly 80 per cent of endorsement deals are signed for brands that are well established and their products are already in the market. The company and government officials who allowed those products to be sold are more liable than the celebrities, who merely lend their names to these products,” he said, adding celebrities may now need to be more wary and careful about the claims being made in the ad campaigns.
So, how protected are celebrities with these indemnity clauses? Experts say as per the food safety laws in India, celebrities involved in misleading advertisements can face fines of up to ₹10 lakh.
Consumer activist Bejon Misra, founder of Consumer Online Foundation, said there are provisions in laws related to food and drug safety that make celebrities liable, but these are not being enforced. “I believe celebrities are completely liable, as they take a fat fee to endorse products. They are public figures and need to be responsible about what they make popular,” he added.
The Maggi issue may also spur advertising firms to rethink their overall creative strategies, if this case leads to legal repercussions for celebrities.
Ashish Bhasin, Chairman & CEO - South Asia, Dentsu Aegis Network, said while celebrities have to be responsible and are liable for the products they endorse and need to ensure that the products are not illegal or banned, but not if the product was legally allowed to be sold in India.
While it remains to be seen what legal turn the controversy takes, advertising agencies and celebrities are expected to become more careful, putting in more effort in due diligence on the safety of the products they endorse.