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Celebrity endorsements and the responsibility quotient

Celebrity-endorsements-marketexpress-inShould celebrities be responsible for brand claims and their deliverables? What is the proper scope and degree of this responsibility? These questions call for discussion on celebrity endorsements that focuses on the various aspect of it.

“We believe good men more fully and more readily than others: this is true generally whatever the question is, and absolutely true where exact certainty is impossible and opinions are divided” – Aristotle

“I am not answerable My Lord, but am I not answerable to the Lord?”

This profound statement of the 4th century seems to be a good starting point for addressing the debate over whether celebrities can be considered responsible for brand claims and their deliverables and what is the justifiable scope and degree of this responsibility. The Maggie controversy embroiling personalities such as Amitabh Bachchan, Preity Zinta, Madhuri Dixit or the Amrapali controversy involving Indian Cricket Icon M S Dhoni or the Pan Bahar fame or (defamed) Pierce Brosnan, raised a storm in a teacup, questioning the accountability of the celebrity endorsers.

The recent Consumer Protection Act holds celebrities responsible for the misfiring of the brands with consequences such as imprisonment and heavy penalties. Bollywood stars, cricketers and global celebrities will be required to independently verify the guarantees being made about products they are paid to promote. The new measures raise the question of how far a celebrity who lends his or her name to a brand can be expected to investigate the quality or reliability of its products.

The Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI) has also dished out new guidelines for celebrities in advertising that will encourage them to refrain from endorsing misleading products or advertisements. Celebrities must do due diligence and ensure that the claims made in their endorsements are not misleading. As per ASCI Chairman Srinivasan K Swamy, it’s important that both celebrities and advertisers are cognizant of the impact and power of advertising and therefore make responsible claims to promote products or services. Releasing the guidelines for celebrity endorsement, ASCI said that the advertiser company and the agency should make the concerned celebrity aware about the advertising codes. (BS, April 14, 2017) However, these guidelines and attempts at times come across either as a knee-jerk response to social media activism or as a meek rejoinder to encourage the celebrities to be more socially responsible in this commercial era. Advertising agencies, Celebrity management agencies and managers have had mixed responses to these government initiatives. But the question always remains, how much of onus should celebrities take up in this accountability setting exercise.

Legal vs Moral responsibility of Celebrities

Would Madhuri Dixit’s stardom make her automatically aware of the permissible levels of lead and Monosodium glutamate (MSG) in Maggie? Can John Abraham be absolutely sure that a Yamaha bike will never violate any environment pollution norms? How sure can Virat Kohli be that Puma’s sports lifestyle products would not cause any health hazard to any of the users? The entire accountability debate can thus be divided into legal vs. moral responsibility.

Most celebrities would not have any expertise or knowledge about the product/ service creation story that essentially lies in the hands of the manufacturer or the service provider. Certain sectors such as real estate and financial products are subject to a number of micro and macroeconomic factors that may alter the dreams and claims sold during the promotional campaigns. While consumer decisions to purchase these goods and services may seem flawed in hindsight, a celebrity endorser may be as clueless as anyone else about its downfall or success at the point of promotion. Thus, celebrities may not be legally responsible for each and every issue that may crop up after their endorsement exercise.

The indemnity clause incorporated by almost all of them in their contracts with companies would automatically absolve them from any such responsibility and will at best be followed by withdrawal of such advertisement or distancing oneself from such brands. Moreover, it is very intriguing that the government would want to consider celebrity responsible for all the wrongdoing by the company, an entity which has been legally and officially given a right to manufacture, distribute or sell services under a law of the land. It is also strange that other stakeholders such as the agency that create an advertisement and spins the message that has to be conveyed to the target audience as well as the regulators can absolve themselves from the responsibility of ensuring that consumers ignorance or naivety is not cashed upon by marketers.

The more central discussion in this debate is the moral responsibility that celebrity endorsers have to live up to while deciding what to endorse and why not to endorse.

Can Shahrukh Khan truly defend his endorsement of fairness creams in a ‘Snow white complexion’ crazed nation as ours? Is he so unaware that just it doesn’t absolve him of the ethical responsibility that comes with being a star? Do Shah Rukh Khan, Shahid Kapoor, John Abraham, Katrina Kaif, Deepika not understand the social ills associated with this fanatic pursuit of fairness in a ‘shades of brown’ tropical nation as ours?

At the heart of celebrity endorsement lies a deep sense of trust and credibility that celebrities enjoy in the eyes of the consumers. In India, especially, celebrities are no less than gods and goddesses worshipped and adulated by their huge fan following. In fact in academic circles a celebrity is defined as, “a person who is successful in his/her own profession, widely recognised in the society and has a huge fan following” (Patra and Datta, 2012).

People find them motivating and have an aspiration to emulate them. Celebrities use their social status or their fame to help promote a product, service or even raise awareness on environmental or social matters.  By virtue of this social standing, they enjoy tremendous source credibility, “a communicator’s positive credible characteristics that affect receiver’s acceptance of a message. This leads to the attribution of expertise to the celebrity, and trust in their judgment about the goodness of the product as well as its benefits. To a large extent, consumers tend to identify with the celebrity and aspire to be like them, at least in terms of behavioural choices, if not in terms of looks, talent or inherent qualities. These attributes put immense power in the hands of the celebrity that can push the consumer to make choices that may be wrong or unhealthy.

Celebrities must accept their social responsibility while making endorsement decisions. No wonder a Sachin is hailed for refusing to endorse tobacco products, given his influence on youth and a Kangana Ranaut becomes a real life ‘Queen’ when she refused to endorse fairness products at the costing of losing big money and Abhay Deol has been cheered for his public stand against film stars promoting fairness.

While the consumers cannot be exonerated as just poor victims at the hands of greedy celebrities luring them to make wrong lifestyle choices, most consumers can be very gullible and impressionable when they see their icons presumably take the road of aerated drinks, chips and fairness creams to “arrive” in life.

Celebrities are persuaders who can create, change and reinforce the attitude of the consumers and therefore need to make responsible choices while choosing products and brands for endorsement. They should be well aware of the image that they carry and the message distortions that will follow if they make wrong choices. A Salman with a six packs on a packet of cigarette is as harmful as the contents of the packet itself, given his huge following so is the International Mr. Pierce Brosnan with his endorsement of Pan Bahar.

Celebrities are persuaders who can create, change and reinforce the attitude of the consumers and therefore need to make responsible choices while choosing products and brands for endorsement. They should be well aware of the image that they carry and the message distortions that will follow if they make wrong choices. A Salman with a six packs on a packet of cigarette is as harmful as the contents of the packet itself, given his huge following so is the International Mr. Pierce Brosnan with his endorsement of Pan Bahar.

Celebrities are persuaders who can create, change and reinforce the attitude of the consumers and therefore need to make responsible choices while choosing products and brands for endorsement. They should be well aware of the image that they carry and the message distortions that will follow if they make wrong choices. A Salman with a six packs on a packet of cigarette is as harmful as the contents of the packet itself, given his huge following so is the International Mr. Pierce Brosnan with his endorsement of Pan Bahar.

Celebrities are persuaders who can create, change and reinforce the attitude of the consumers and therefore need to make responsible choices while choosing products and brands for endorsement. They should be well aware of the image that they carry and the message distortions that will follow if they make wrong choices. A Salman with a six packs on a packet of cigarette is as harmful as the contents of the packet itself, given his huge following so is the International Mr. Pierce Brosnan with his endorsement of Pan Bahar.

A Salman with a six packs on a packet of cigarette is as harmful as the contents of the packet itself, given his huge following so is the International Mr. Pierce Brosnan with his endorsement of Pan Bahar.






  • Gowrishaankar

    First of all my thanks to the authors Dr. Deepika Dabke and Prof. Priyanka for writing this article. I think more and got frustrated on celebrities when, they take part in advertisement which are against the social values and concerned on money instead of the people. Celebrity promotion is the prime activity in marketing. People’s are buying the new products and services not only based on their needs but also due to the promotioms nand advertisings by the celebrity. Those celebrities are making profit with their popularism and goodwill among the population. They should do research on the products and services in prior. Definitely they are responsible for the outcomes of the products and services, because some of the celebrities demands shares in the profit earned by the firms.

    • marketexpress

      It is all about core values that one possess. So celebrities have to dwell deep within themselves and take a step back in understanding their influence they command and the repercussions pertaining to their endorsements.

    • Deepika Dabke

      Sure Gowrishaankar . There are many celebrities who are very well aware of the huge social responsibility that they carry on their shoulders . Many more should join them to leverage their positive influence while creating a buzz for any brand