Celebrity endorsement – UPSC Ethics


The question whether celebrity endorsers are liable for lapses of a manufacturer or service provider in India has been debated ever since Nestle’s Maggi brand of instant noodles fell afoul of food testing authorities. Do you think, on ethical grounds, should celebrities endorsing such brands be punished by law? Critically comment. (200 Words)
The recent case of Maggi, where notices were sent to its brand ambassadors holding them liable to promote a sub-standard quality product has stoked debate about the liability of celebrities endorsing any brand.
Celebrity endorsements have a big impact on any brand. In India, where a lot of celebrities are worshipped as demi gods, such an image is encashed by a lot of celebrities by endorsing a multitude of products. In many of the cases, the products may not even meet quality standards and thus, the celebrity endorsement encourages people to use sub-standard or harmful products.
However, regardless of the damage caused to a consumer by using a sub-standard product, holding the celebrity responsible for it might seem a bit harsh. The only reasonable thing a celebrity might be expected to do before endorsing any product is to check that it has been approved by the relevant government regulator for sale. Other than that holding them responsible for a sub-standard product will not be legally tenable as it will not satisfy the clause of mens rea i.e., there is no intent to cause harm on the part of celebrity.
It also opens another ethical dilemma. If celebrities featuring in advertisements for a sub-standard product are held guilty, what about professional actors for whom making advertisement is a just a job or advertising agencies who design those ad campaigns.
What is needed is a policy defining clearly the obligations of a celebrity endorser on the lines of the ‘Good reason to believe’ test evolved in the United States. In the present case, while Maggi failed standards in testing, it had the requisite permits from FSSAI. Thus, holding the endorser liable for manufacturing defects would in fact be a travesty of justice.



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