• Saturday, May 30, 2015 - 05:30
  Following the Uttar Pradesh Food and Drug Administration’s decision to recall packets of Maggi Noodles for reportedly having monosodium glutamate and lead more than permissible limits, Madhuri Dixit, who endorses Maggi’s brand of ‘nutritious’ oats noodles, could be in trouble. The Haridwar FDA has issued her a notice seeking an explanation as to how the noodles are nutritious, and what the basis is for making such a claim. If she fails to respond within 15 days a case could be filed against her, according to officials of the FDA. At the outset, a notice to film stars for faulty products might look like a big joke, but misrepresentation of products, especially in the food sector, is a serious issue, and not as silly as many would like to believe. This is not the first time brand ambassadors have been pulled up for erroneous, misleading or outright false advertisements. An FIR was filed against Genelia D’Souza for allegedly making false promises through ads and brochures for a real estate company in 2012. The Home Trade scam of 2002 had the celebrity endorsement of three big celebrities, Sachin Tendulkar, Hrithik Roshan and Shah Rukh Khan. Having created not a single product, the company made away with thousands of crore rupees of investor money, and celebrity-endorsed brand building was a crucial part of their operation. Several insurance ads are alleged to have been making misleading claims in the past, and several insurance brands have celebrities like Irrfan Khan and Amitabh Bachchan endorse them. And it’s not just the world of high-flying celebrities endorsing mega-brands. Activists have also been speaking out against ads for sauna-belts, medicines, Hanuman-chalisa yantra and gem-stones on TV screens. In February last year, the Central Consumer Protection Council, the under the leadership of former Union Food Minister KV Thomas, decided unanimously to propose laws to hold celebrities endorsing products also liable for misleading advertisements. The rationale behind this decision of the CPCC was that celebrities had considerable influence over consumer choice, and that there must me some form of liability for the endorsements being made. As Devika Agarwal points out in this post, 50% of advertisements in India are celebrity endorsements. For a country which reveres and adores its film stars and popular personalities, celebrity endorsements could entirely change the consumer’s likes and dislikes. As the Home Trade Scam case shows us, celebrity endorsements could be of immense consequence in driving choices being made by buyers. Mind you, in the Home Trade scam, there was not a single product which was launched. And based on the ad campaign, serious investors and even national banks were duped into investing huge amounts of money. If that was the case with financial investors, imagine what the impact would be on a young kind who likes health drinks or a loving mother who wants to provide the best for the family. Actually, we don’t have to imagine. A study by the Indian School of Business, Hyderabad shows that in emerging markets like India and China, celebrity endorsements lead to favourable advertisement evaluations by consumers, and that is because of perception of credibility of the endorsers. The study points out, to put it simply, that bigger the celebrity, more the credibility. In India, laws like the Consumer Protection Act and Food Safety and Standards Act protect consumers against false claims and advertisements, and celebrities could be held liable under these laws. There has been considerable debate in India in the recent years over endorsement of beauty products and fairness creams. But the misrepresentation of food products using celebrities has been spoken about less.