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BrandedLies: Penalisation of brand endorsers is ridiculous

The Financial Express
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The Consumer Protection Bill, 2019, passed recently by the Lok Sabha seeks to make endorsers, including celebrities, legally liable for the products they advertise. To implement what is being understood as the moral responsibility of celebrities endorsing products, the Bill, prescribes a fine up to `10 lakh for first time offenders, going up to `50 lakh and a jail term for repeat offences.

Additionally, it has a provision to ban offending celebrities from taking on advertising projects for a year, extending up to three years for repeat offenders.

Moreover, the Bill proposes stringent laws against endorsers, with the only grounds for exception from legal liability being presentation of evidence by the celebrities. In comparison, manufacturers and service providers face a penalty of `10 lakh in fines and imprisonment up to two years. While the Bill does provide the caveat that manufacturers and/or endorsers will only be penalised in cases they fail to discontinue or modify a patently false/misleading advert, this does not take away from the absurdity of attaching legal liability to endorsers of commercials, which, by their very nature, are designed to represent products in a manner that increases their attractiveness as commodities.

Of course, it is immoral, unethical, and downright illegal to advertise a product or service on false grounds, but to put the complete burden of ensuring the veracity of a product's commercial on its endorser would achieve nothing more than disincentivizing celebrities from signing on any advertisements. This would not only hurt the interests of multiple industries but also those of consumers too.

Besides, the Bill absolves consumers of both agency and responsibility of choice. In a case like the infamous Axe lawsuit, where an Indian man sued the makers of the body spray for misleading consumers, the Bill not only legitimises what is clearly a ridiculous claim but also allows for the lawsuit to extend to the endorser. Surely the laws of natural justice do not allow consumer protection to come at the cost of unfair burdens on other parties.