Celebrities influence us the deepest. Irrespective of our ‘literacy’, they help us ‘decide’ whether to buy a particular brand or not, through their appearances in advertisements. There is no denial in this. Their influence is profound especially in India. A celebrity endorsing a product or service, serves as a promise of quality and trust and strikes an instant credibility to the brand. However, the major question that arises here is whether their ‘influence’ is good or bad.

Celebrities, for the purpose of this guideline, are those people who are from the field of Entertainment and Sports and would also include other well-known personalities like doctors, authors, activists, educationists, etc. who get compensated for aTo keep a check on this the Advertising Standards Council of India (hereinafter ‘ASCI’) released a set of guidelines in 2017 to ensure that the advertisements starring them are not misleading or deceptive.ppearing in advertisements.

The guidelines can be summarized as under:

  1. The advertisements should not violate any parts of the ASCI code. They are expected to have adequate knowledge of the Code. A duty is cast upon the Advertiser and the Agency to make sure that the Celebrity they wish to engage with is made aware of these guidelines. Simply put, the advertisements should be represented honestly, should not be offensive to public, should not promote harmful products or substances and observe fair competition.
  2. Testimonials, endorsements or opinions in advert must reflect genuine and reasonably current opinion of the individual(s) making such representations and should reflect adequate information about or experience with the product/service.
  3. A duty of due diligence is cast upon the celebrities to ensure that all claims and comparisons made in the advert can be substantiated and are not deceptive/misleading. A celebrity can seek advertising advice from ASCI to ascertain violations, if any, which can be construed as against due diligence.
  4. A strict ban is imposed on the advertising of products/treatments/remedies which are prohibited under the Drugs & Magic Remedies and the Drugs & Cosmetics Act. And a similar ban is imposed on tobacco – based products or products bearing health warning. They are strictly prohibited from promoting or endorsing such products.

The quintessential question that follows here, is the extent to which these guidelines have been enforced. Quite contrary to ‘Indian enforcement’, these guidelines have actually been implemented in spirit with a few celebrities been held responsible for their some of their actions.

  • A number of complaints were filed against the television commercial of motorbike ‘Hero Xtreme 200r’ by Hero MotoCorp Ltd. which was endorsed by sports (cricket) celebrity, Virat Kohli. The complaints were received from governmental bodies, Supreme Court committee, consumer organization and end users with prime concern of road safety wherein Virat Kohli was shown to ride the bike dangerously flouting traffic rules. The CCC (Consumer Complaints Council) upheld the complaints. The advertiser agreed to revise the television commercial; however proposed revisions did not address all the objections raised by the complainants. Since the complaint was received from the Supreme Court Committee on Road Safety, this complaint was not treated under Informal Resolution (IR) mechanism, and was processed extensively. The CCC concluded that the television commercial portrayed violation of the traffic rules, showed dangerous practices and manifested a disregard for safety. Such television commercial encouraged unsafe/ reckless driving which would harm the driver and general public. While its contravened ASCI Code, clauses (a) (b) and (c) of the ASCI Guidelines for Advertisements depicting Automotive Vehicles and was found to be violating Clause (b) of the ASCI Guidelines for Celebrities in Advertising.
  • The CCC upheld a complaint filed against ‘surrogate advertisement’ by liquor brand, Officers Choice Blue which was being endorsed by sports (cricket) celebrity, MS Dhoni. The advertisements were concluded to be misleading by implication and contravened ASCI Code and also did not meet the requirements of the ASCI Guidelines for Qualification of Brand Extension Product or Service.
  • Complaint was filed against Frankfinn Aviation Services Pvt. Ltd.’s television commercial claiming to be “World’s No. 1 Airhostess Training Institute” featuring Alia Bhatt. The CCC concluded that the claim, “World’s No. 1 Airhostess Training Institute”, was not substantiated with verifiable comparative data of the advertiser’s institute and other similar institutes worldwide to prove its leadership position or through a third-party validation. The claim was misleading by exaggeration and was likely to lead to grave or widespread disappointment in the minds of consumers. The television commercial was found to contravene Guidelines for Advertising of Educational Institutions and Programs, ASCI Code and clauses (c), (d) of the Guidelines for Celebrities in Advertising. The complaint was upheld.

Therefore, it can be seen that, the ASCI’s guidelines help in ensuring that claims made in advertising are not misleading, false or go unsubstantiated. Advertisers following these guidelines will protect the interests of the consumers, especially for products or services, which can cause serious financial loss or physical harm. These Guidelines are developed in order that the Advertiser is guided to produce and release appropriate advertisements featuring celebrities.

Summary