Madhuri Dixit met with the nation’s wrath for endorsing a product that is allegedly unsafe for consumption, while Kangana got a pat on the back for refusing to endorse a fairness cream. Sanat Mehra takes a look at celebrities who have either received brickbats for endorsing controversial products or been lauded for their social consciousness
The curious case of advertisements is that you’ll never know whether they follow us or we follow them. In fulfilling our need to consume media, whether it is online, offline or in between the lines, we are met by the lurking advertisements. It is at this point that we are convinced that the white collared, marketing extra-terrestrials are paid to deviate humans from enjoying their favourite content.
However, when we go out shopping, it can be quite amusing how brand conscious we are – so are we the followers? Ad and theatre personality Bharat Dabholkar clarifies that the advertising culture has seen a change with technological amendments. He declares that “interaction and dialogue” are the two most interesting inclusions into the marketing mix.
Social media has allowed people to get immediate support from others and equally quick responses from those with varying opinions. This added feature or extension of man can work wonders when considering the gap between consumer and seller. Many examples highlight the catchphrase: ‘Social media turns customers into a volunteer marketing army’. However, putting madness to the method this time over were #Madhuri and #Maggi.
Preceding the manner in which one brand ambassador gets embroiled in a controversy that questions her social responsibility, only recently a starlet caught the media’s attention for her conscious effort to heal hurt sentiments. A galaxy of stars has been endorsing fairness creams. On the other hand, Kangana Ranaut, who is known to call the shots on most matters pertaining to her, refused to endorse a fairness brand. As per the deal, she was entitled to a sum of two crore, if agreed upon. While many a realty dream could have been met by that offering, the actress quite rightfully overlooked the opportunity in favour of upholding the confidence of “the darker people” as the National award winning actress says, “Fairness is one ridiculous thing and I feel the government should ban it. I don't know why they are continuing with this sort of product that is instilling self-doubt and a sort of inferiority complex in our youth.” . Priyanka Chopra claims that she had been a victim of racial discrimination and attempts were made to demoralise her for being dark complexioned. Nevertheless, the actress is known to have endorsed fairness brands in the past.
The Department of Food and Drug Administration (FSDA) claims that Maggi contains lead beyond permissible limits, and Madhuri Dixit has mistakenly led many to believe that it is safe for consumption. While many media companies caught on to that issue, it were the netizens who had the first and last laugh. And, in the midst of the chaos, Madhuri realised that there were only two questions that she needed to address. First, why did she agree to advocate the noodle brand? She tweeted: “Nestle explained that they always place the consumer first and have the highest quality standards.” Secondly — especially for those who think celebrities do not consume what they endorse — the actress confirmed on the networking site, “Like most of India, I have enjoyed Maggi noodles for years. I was very concerned after recent reports and met with the
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Adman Bharat Dabholkar opined, “I think it is more an issue between the government and the manufacturer. One cannot expect the model/personality to go out of their way to research a product, if the advertising agency itself hasn’t gone beyond a certain level to get familiarised with the products chemical composition, how can you expect the celebrity to? ” Clearly, that is where the viewership is sailing towards after the critics uproar and the star’s consequent silence on the issue. Besides, there is a phase of humour in the online lifecycle of a matter that is of public importance, and to do the honours was Chetan Bhagat who endorses a matrimonial website. Before making his fourth mistake, the author of The 3 Mistakes of My Life tweeted: “Brand ambassadors responsible for their products? Ok so @shaadidotcom is just a website. Making your shaadi work is your responsibility!”
Rousing the ire
As Paulo Coehlo says, “The world is changed by your example, not by your opinion.” Unfortunately, there are many on Twitter who lend an opinion to other’s examples. Among the socially conscious stars is Hrithik Roshan. He had taken offence to a mobile phone advertisement that depicted those who stutter. On many occasions, the actor has been vocal about his childhood struggle with the speech impediment; so being an example of one who has successfully overcome the infirmity, Hrithik justifies his opinion: “An intex ad using a handicap — a boy wth a stutter 2 enhance d fluency of its product. Irresponsible. Insensitive. Want 2 ban sumthing ban dis.” The advertisement that the actor is referring to shows a young man who is popular among the women despite his habit of stuttering. In the commercial the young man concludes by saying, “Main atakta hoon, mera Intex Aqua Speed nahi” (I get stuck, but my phone doesn’t). Interestingly, the supporters of Hrithik Roshan and the star himself did not blame the model who endorses the mobile phone, but the advertisers. Dabholkar asserts that one cannot expect the small time models, who act in audio visual adverts, to highlight their priorities and question the brands they are promoting. While the big stars do have their responsibilities, there is a limit to how much they can research about a product that they are endorsing.
Throwing a fizz
The beverage industry has been very accommodating when it comes to brand ambassadors; they’ve not just stuck to the Bollywood fraternity, but have infused talents from a wide variety of professions. Carbonated beverages, as we well know, have been around for a while; it is the kind of beverage that won’t have the eldest member of the family look at you inquisitively as you proceed to take your first sip. And, with time, most people have familiarised themselves with the harmful effects of excessively consuming these beverages. As for Amitabh Bachchan the realisation of the product being a “poison” dawned upon him rather recently. The beginning of 2014 marked the end of an eight year business association with PepsiCo India. While the company’s spokespersons weren’t passive towards media queries, everyone’s attention was on Big B’s offering of solace. At a management institute, the veteran actor revealed that during a visit to Jaipur, a young fan asked him why he endorsed a drink that her teacher called “poison”. Although the actor claims to have no answer to the girl’s query, he realised that he didn’t want to endorse a product that was imprinted in the minds of people in such a manner. As the actor had endorsed Maggi noodles two years back, the consequences of the Maggi row could have the police knocking on his door with a notice from the Bihar court. In a press interaction with Bachchan on Wednesday, the actor said, “I have not received any notice as of now. If I do, it will be passed on to my lawyer and I will show full co-operation to the judiciary.”
Tobacco or not to back
It has been a while since tobacco ads were ban; however, the amending bill that was tabled 14 years back shouldn’t have wiped out from our memory just how tobacco was advertised. Of course it is unethical to convince people to take up the risk of smoking or consuming tobacco products; besides, most people are aware of the health risks attached to the habit. Let us reminiscence about how the advertising agencies managed to put across their point without sounding unethical and refraining from over highlighting the health risks. A slice from the past: ‘Red and White smokers are one of a kind’. This tagline was found at the bottom of many posters depicting Akshay Kumar with a cigarette in his hand. Quite evidently, selling a product that is injurious to health was done by attempting to match the consumer’s self-image to that depicted in hoardings. Most of these print commercials, through their imagery, were highlighting adjectives like macho, independent and cool. Bollywood’s Khiladi, for being a teetotaler and maintaining a rigid workout regime for the past 22 years, would mirror the above mentioned adjectives without the cigarette in hand. In an interview with a news daily, after refusing to endorse for a gutka brand, he said, “I am the father of an impressionable young boy who watches TV. I can understand if parents get upset on seeing a celebrity promoting harmful products like alcohol or tobacco.” However, that did not dither him from endorsing a liquor brand, in an attempt to donate half his earnings to charity.
Aamir Khan on two occasions has been questioned for a flagrant display of hypocrisy. At the time when Coca-Cola’s manufacturing plant in Kerala was producing bottled units containing high levels of pesticide, the actor was questioned. At the time, however, he had credible proof that backed his decision to accept the role of endorsee. On another occasion, Mr Perfectionist was asked for his opinion about stars endorsing fairness products. Perhaps the actor’s view must have been marketed more as a dig at actor Shah Rukh Khan, who endorses a fairness brand, but Aamir vehemently condemned those who endorsed and sold similar merchandise. A pleasant change, from the wide variety of films that Aamir Khan has acted in, came with the show Satymev Jayate in 2012. The show further sculpted the actor’s image as one who wants to lead by example and who prefers to aim for achievements in the national interest. The show that deals with social issues had the star dedicate an episode to the shortcomings of the country’s medical facilities. However, to the dismay of his fans Aamir Khan opted for the role of brand ambassador of Snapdeal that had been sent a legal notice for selling medical drugs to customers without the required prescription. So, may be, the deal from the heart tagline would better read as deal with your heart.
Health over wealth
With the passage of time we've seen some of our ’90s stars widen their horizons by dabbling in a variety of entrepreneurial activities. While getting involved in such activities may have made them shift their focus from acting in films, they still relish a keen fan following through the new found passions that they market innovatively. Who would have imagined that Shilpa Shetty would market yoga in DVDs, which turned out to be a happy excursion from the ‘un-yogasmic’ stretching demonstrated by Baba Ramdev. Although Shilpa admits on Twitter that she is a “Full time Mother and Wife part time Actor and Entrepreneur”, she doesn’t seem to forego her conviction towards being a fitness freak. In an earlier report, a source had revealed to mid-day that the actress was approached by an international fast food brand, but she refused the lucrative offer. The reason for the same are best summed up by the ‘part time actor and entrepreneur’: “I practice what I preach. In my home, junk food isn’t encouraged. There’s nothing wrong with having it occasionally but I wouldn’t promote it or consume it on a daily basis.”
While the fear of misleading impressionable kids has censored films and advertisements, marketers have managed to find their way around these obstacles. Recently, a whiskey brand had sponsored a short film starring Jude Law and for the unveiling of this audio visual they had invited celebrity guests. The guests were Bollywood's most popular Hollywood stars Irrfan Khan and Anil Kapoor. Obviously, at the media interaction the two could not escape some critically wound questions on their choice of lending support to an alcohol brand.
To one of the questions posed to Mr India, he replied, “I must admit that I do enjoy a drink once in a while, but the main reason for accepting this opportunity was because this was my father’s favourite brand. Indeed, I have preserved a few of his unfinished bottles which I plan on finishing with him when I meet him in heaven.” However, we can excuse the star for not being tempted to take a sip of the expensive whiskey poured for him and opting for a glass of coffee considering the eager shutterbugs were awaiting for him to take a swig.
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