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Should celebs refrain from surrogate advertisement?

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“Practice what you preach,” is a common saying across the world. Akshay Kumar, however, learnt it the hard way. His endorsement of a pan masala brand despite his statement against the consumption of alcohol and tobacco left him at the receiving end of his own fandom’s ire, who excoriated him. Even his apology was not good enough. Social media users want him to refrain from surrogate advertisement, a form of advertising which is used to promote regulated products, like cigarettes and alcohol, in the disguise of another product.

Akshay is not new to such controversies. People have often called his image as a fitness influencer ‘a charade’ when he was found promoting Kurkure. The irony with Akshay being the face of a pan masala brand is that he is one of the flag bearers of the Fit India campaign. To add, he once said, “People who can not work out even for one hour in a day should die.” Today this statement sounds a bit rich coming from Akshay. Doesn’t it?

But, Akshay is not the only one facing backlash for ‘unethical’ advertising. In 2021, Bollywood’s angry young man landed himself in a similar controversy when he became the face of a pan masala brand. It was not long ago when Alia Bhatt’s bridal wear ad sparked a debate on social media for challenging the age-old practice of kanyadaan. Not even King Khan was not spared when he endorsed a fairness cream for men. The list goes on and on, but the point is should celebrities be held accountable for default or lapses by the brands they endorse?

According to Central Consumer Protection Council, a committee headed by Consumer Affairs Minister Ram Vilas Paswan, celebrities should be held responsible for misleading advertisements of brands endorsed by them. The council has also proposed that there should be adequate guidelines for brand ambassadors. Though celebrities might not be experts at judging the quality of a product, they should at least apply some common judgement before endorsing a product. Consumers repose faith in celebrities and tend to follow their advice because of their credibility.

A parliamentary standing committee under J C Divakar Reddy has also been constituted by the government that is exhaustively analysing the various aspects related to misleading advertisements and is expected to soon place its report before parliament. According to media reports, it could recommend a jail term of up to five years, along with a hefty penalty, on celebrities who are found endorsing misleading advertisements.

The panel might propose a fine of up to Rs 10 lakh or imprisonment of up to 2 years, or both, for the first-time offenders. The repeat offenders could be treated more stringently, with a fine of up to Rs 50 lakh, or imprisonment of up to five years, or both.

These might spell a difficult time ahead for celebrities, who have so far escaped any liability for misleading advertisements. They are paid crores of rupees for endorsements and enjoy other benefits that these companies provide, but are not answerable in the event of a default by these companies. However, it will be challenging for the panel to propose a law that holds celebrities responsible as they cannot be expected to know the intricate details of the company they are endorsing. The celebrities, usually from the sports or entertainment industry, do not have the domain knowledge to scrutinise a product as an expert. Therefore, it is the government’s duty to protect the consumer, and the company’s to ensure it does not indulge in malpractices.

Is it alright for people to enforce their opinions on celebrities? The freedom to make a choice is a basic human right. The choice may be right for some, wrong for others. But who are we to decide and dictate? Who are we to bully, troll or force someone to choose differently?. You might agree with them, you might not agree with them, that is very normal. Dictating anyone that you should do this, you should not do this… especially if you like someone, you let that person make their own choice, even if it’s a mistake. Bullying them, trolling them, forcing them is not how you treat people whom you consider your idol or stars. If you don’t consider them your stars or heroes, then whatever they endorse or not endorse shouldn’t bother you.


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