Blog Monday, July 06, 2015 - 05:30
  Endorsements matter. When famous people endorse products or ideas, they push markets and policy, millions of dollars surge, and in some cases diseases too. The skin whitening creams, the slimming pills, grow taller booster drinks for example are not always based on scientific evidence even though the marketing hides behind a person wearing a white coat to give it “medical” legitimacy. Maggie Noodles and their endorsements have made headlines in India for weeks now, raising more questions than they have been able to answer. Many stars including Amitabh Bachchan and Madhuri Dixit have endorsed it, though Bachchan said he had stopped doing so a few years ago. In a country where the Fast Moving Consumer Goods (FMCG) sector is clipping along at double digit growth and the banking and financial sectors is offering debt disguised as success (large houses, larger cars, expensive holidays and free credit) there is no organization advising consumers systematically about the other side of the story. The Moneylife Foundation run by the award winning journalist Sucheta Dalal and her spouse Debashish Biswasis the only one that comes to mind and that mostly relates to banking and financial services and insurance (BFSI). In such a situation, the power of the personality is immense if not total. Throw back Who is this man, my late mother-in-law asked as she ushered Amitabh Bachchan into our home and settled him in.He’s an Indian actor, rather famous, I said. This was in the early nineties. A senior Indian diplomat working with one of the many United Nations (UN) bodies organizing the Earth Summit wanted Mr. Bachchan to come on board as a goodwill ambassador. The will was clear to the man who strode the firmament of the Indian film industry for decades, but he was not convinced about the maximum good for maximum people that his association with the cause would bring.  “I’ll meet them, but they must not have any expectation,” Mr. Bachchan told me. A stickler for time, the bell rang on the dot.  Nothing, nothing is more embrassing for a hostess when the chief guest arrives hours before the demandeurs, in this case the UN official and the Indian Ambassador to Geneva who arrived half an hour late. Niceties over, they explained their cause which was to save the planet.  They wanted Mr. Bachchan to become some kind of a flag bearer for the Earth Summit, a voice from the distance. If you are sitting on the earth, which past is considered distant, asked Mr. Bachchan of the two gentlemen. From there, he led the conversation tight and steady and it went something like this, Will India benefit from this? Does my job involve criticizing governments who have not yet found a solution? Does the world still believe in the polluter-pays concept if not how can this dialogue move forward? I can see myself joining a hartal in Mumbai and then retreating to the comfort of my air-conditioned home – is this luxury available to all Indians or can the UN tell me when all of this will be available to the rest of the world? What do I tell women back in India who has to work miles to find fire-wood and carry it back home every evening – that the UN is taking care  of their problems? You get the drift. The answer was a polite no. I was not planning to write this except that the former UN diplomat mentioned it to me recently in public, almost blaming me for influencing the outcome of that meeting. As the world is readying itself for United Nations Conference on Climate Change (UNCCC) in December 2015, brand ambassadors have been lined up. They include doctors, musicians, priests and royalty, politicians, scientists, earth specialists and even CEOs of oil companies, I ask myself the same questions. How many of these “endorsers” are aware of their responsibilities which come with their star-status? Will a word fest succeed where the sight of reality -  poverty and war, drying water sources, too much on one side and too little on the other – has failed?  

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