Let me begin with a seven-year-old court verdict which had directed the police to lodge an FIR against top film stars. Actually a Bihar court on June 2, 2015 ordered registration of an FIR against Bollywood stars Amitabh Bachchan, Madhuri Dixit and Preity Zinta, who had featured in the Maggi advertisements. The court had even asked the authorities to arrest the film stars if need arises for ‘misleading advertisement’.
A complainant had claimed he bought Maggi noodles from a shop at Lenin Chowk in Muzaffarpur on May 30, 2015 and was taken ill after eating it.
He filed a case against Nestle, the makers of Maggi, and the film stars who had promoted the product as brand ambassadors. The court order gave some tough moments to these film stars before escaping the punishment.
Overall, the incident was an eye opener for the celebrities endorsing products and services.
Over a period of time, advertising has undergone a sea change and celebrities, be it sports personalities or Bollywood stars, have remained too busy with endorsing various brands as their ambassadors. The enthralling visual mix of celebrities and the advanced technology in producing a product and services advertisement (ad) leaves a huge impact on the audience. In fact, the ads produced and directed today carry huge influence on the minds of the audience, forcing them to go for reckless purchasing and investing.
Of late, celebrities endorsing various digital assets have netted millions of retail (mostly raw) investors into the world of virtual (crypto) currency market. Needless to say that cryptocurrencies are illegal in India, though the investment in these currencies is treated as asset class, but only for tax purposes.
Powerful ad campaigns of cryptocurrencies, meme coins and other digital investment platforms featuring celebrities have lured people to invest.
The celebrities endorsing a cryptocurrency and its allied digital products for gainful investment, that too when such digital products have no legal status in the country, have already come under the regulators like the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) and the Securities & Exchange Board of India (SEBI).
In a latest move against the cryptocurrencies, the SEBI has recommended that no ‘prominent public figures, including celebrities and sportsmen,should endorse crypto products. The market regulator proposed that companies advertising cryptos and digital assets should also put up disclosures listing out possible law violations.
Notably, the Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI) guidelines envisage that all ads must carry a disclaimer saying, “Crypto products and NFTs are unregulated and can be highly risky. There may be no regulatory recourse for any loss from such transactions.”
The Council directs that such a disclaimer must be made in a manner so that it is prominent and unmissable by an average consumer. The SEBI wants the ASCI to add “dealings in crypto products may lead to prosecution for possible violation of Indian laws such as FEMA, BUDS Act, PMLA, etc.”, to its disclaimer.
Statistically speaking, the crypto market is falling from grace and investors are fast losing their investment. Never-seen-before fear has gripped crypto investors caused due to TerraUSD’s Luna’s recent crash from $116 on April 5 to $0 May 13, which depicts a 100 per cent decrease in its value.
Moreover, Bitcoin, the world’s most popular virtual currency, has dropped 35.75 percent YTD and is currently at Rs 22.85 lakh. It has lost more than half of its value since it hit an all-time high of $69,000 in November last year.
Now the market regulator wants celebrities to take special care and proper research about the statements and claims made in the advertisement, so as to not mislead consumers, especially the young. If such a direction is violated and investors suffer losses, the celebrity endorsing the product can be booked under law for cheating the public.
It’s notable that the Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI) has recently released a set of guidelines for digital currency ads after serious concerns were raised over the misleading ads by the digital currency companies featuring prominent personalities to woo gullible small investors.
The guidelines among other things ban the use of words like currency, securities custodian, and depositories in such advertisements and should not include misleading statements that guarantee or promise future increase in profits.
The guidelines envisage that the celebrities who appear in digital currency or NFT advertisements should exercise “caution” to ensure that they have done their research about the statements and claims made in the advertisements to not mislead the consumers.
Notably, the “irresponsible” advertising of digital currencies by Bollywood celebrities like Ayushmann Khurrana and Ranveer Singh, have been labeled as misleading by the ASCI.
Even the sponsorship of ICCWorld Cup in 2021 by the country’s digital currency exchanges like CoinDCX was objected to by the authorities. The exchanges collectively spent over $6.7M during that tournament.
Meanwhile, when we talk of advertising standards, it’s to be understood that such activities are simply commercial transactions and the use of medium to promote a brand and influence the audience too is of great significance.
Television and internet are the two modes which are highly impactful when it comes to influencing peoples’ minds, especially the young ones. In a mad race to influence the audience and woo them to use their products and services, the companies most of the time use derogatory content in their ad campaigns or programmes.
In the name of creativity in content development of programmes, particularly in advertisements, vulgarity has been let loose under the nose of authorities for quite some time now. The promotion of this vulgarity is enough to pollute the minds, particularly the young ones into characterless individuals.
Even as there’s a defined code of conduct for advertisements (ads), we see television channels flooded with obscene ads.
The advertisements are a source of survival and earnings for the channels, but that doesn’t mean they can accept a vulgar or an obscene ad for telecast in public.
What’s most surprising is that these vulgar ads focus more on obscenity than on the product or service of a company.
I agree that a certain amount of creativity is always desired, but it should not be promoting immorality creatively. Advertising is a communication tool which reaches the entire family sitting together in the dining room. Ours is a society where a majority still has a single television set in their family, where parents and kids watch TV together.
I will not pinpoint any particular ad currently on air which I think is crossing the line. An ad showing a not-so-good-looking young man attracting five gorgeous women, just because he uses a certain kind of perfume or body spray, is really sending the wrong signal to society, particularly to the young minds.
One fails to understand what connection a particular brand of cement ad showing a woman in bikini coming out of water. I feel it’s simply commodification and exploitation of women and promotion of vulgarity.
In succinct, the ad business needs to be put under scanner and severe strictures should be passed on those who promote vulgarity and serve misleading information to the general public.
There’s a need to maintain a line of control between informative, creative and vulgar. It should be protected cautiously to help the social change for betterment.
(The views are of the author & not the Institution he works for)
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author.
The facts, analysis, assumptions and perspective appearing in the article do not reflect the views of GK.