Sanjeev Kotnala: Why I fail to understand ASCI’s proposed guidelines on celebrities

21 Dec,2016

By Sanjeev Kotnala


The ‘Celebrity in Advertising’ is something I fail to understand.  As per tradition, certain highly influential people, business leaders, religious leaders, politicians, government functionaries, Bureaucrats and people like doctors, authors, activists and educationists have been treated with kid gloves.

To me, any guideline must cut across all segments and not necessarily the so-called, identified celebrities, the one in fields of entertainment and sports.  The guidelines are discriminatory in nature. They are restrictive in treating ‘celebrity’ strong influence as a negative. A barrier. A constraint. A block.

So, I have few innocent questions:

::  Who will certify, if a person is a celebrity or not?
:: What is the level of success and following that defines a celebrity?
:: Will playing just one Ranji match, being an Olympic probable, having done a 5-minute role in a film or even having spent a week at BiggBoss house qualifies you to a celebrity status?
:: Will the hero of a flop regional picture be treated at par with Dabang and Mr Perfectionist?
:: Will certain number of followers on tweet qualify you as a celebrity?
:: Will ASCI routinely publish the list of current people qualifying as a celebrity?
:: As the fortunes change,, so does the status. After how many years of leaving a field will the status be reversed?
:: Oh, why should the ads featuring celebrity should not be ‘misleading, false or unsubstantiated’?
:: Do we in our wisdom believe that the degree of individual consumer harm is different from a misleading advertisement that features or does not feature a celebrity? Alternatively, as a large nation, we only get sensitised when a large number of people get affected.
:: Why do we always take these silly escapist routes?
:: Are we endorsing as a fact that a celebrity featured or endorsement advertisements gets more publicised and has a higher influence, then maybe an emotional or logical or even satire based advertisement?
:: Or we are just doing it, as celebrities are a soft target?
:: Will this discretionary treatment stand in the courts of law?


Remember this stance in case of bar dancers and 5-star events have been negated in the court. The only part that is right in this approach is that the guidelines are developed in order that Advertisers are guided to produce and release appropriate advertisements.

Oh, by the way, celebrities are expected to have adequate knowledge of these Codes.

Does every person in advertising industry know how to make good ads?

The onus should stop with the agency and the client.

It is the duty of the advertiser and the agency to make sure the communication developed for the brand is not misleading. Their duty does not start or finish with need to make a celebrity aware of the guidelines.

You want action? You want results?
Here is what you can do. Ban the advertising agency and the client from advertising. Hit them where it hurts the most. Nevertheless, that is sacrilege to think in that direction. The industry may come to a standstill.

The guideline says vaguely that when a person signs a testimonial or used phrases, like ‘I use’, ‘I advise’ or ‘In my opinion’ or such interpreted words than it should reflect a genuine, reasonably current opinion of the individual(s). Perfect, what if the opinion is wrong, but that is the personal opinion. Should celebrity not have an equal right to broadcast their genuine opinion?  NO, WE WOULD WANT TO BLAME THE CELEBRITY.

Then there is this layer of the celebrities GENUINE opinion must be based upon adequate information about or experience with the product or service being advertised.

In my view, the blame should rest only with the advertiser and the agency. They, in spite of being part of the industry and having access to the best of the information and possible questioning, argument, soul and insight searching end up making misleading claim.  WE WOULD WANT TO BLAME THE CELEBRITY.

If the agency cannot grill the client on the communication stance and statements.  If the agency is unable to do due diligence to ensure that all descriptions, claims and comparisons made in the advertisements are capable of being objectively ascertained, substantiated and not misleading or appear deceptive.

If they could not get the information or take a conscious open eyed decision, and end up making a misleading communication.  Just like the couple blaming the pandit for unwanted pregnancy.  WE WOULD LIKE TO BLAME THE CELEBRITY.

On the other side, the appeal to celebrities not to participate in any advertisement of (I) a product or treatment or remedy that is prohibited for advertising under The Drugs & Magic Remedies (Objectionable Advertisements) Act 1954 or (ii) The Drugs & Cosmetic Act 1940 and Rules 1945: (Schedule J) or (iii) a product which by law requires a health warning “……is injurious to health” on its packaging or advertisement is nice.

It can only be an appeal to senses and sensibilities. If it is a product that is LEGALLY allowed to be produced, consumed and advertised, then celebrity should have equal opportunity to be part of it. Alternatively, just stop advertising it. Hell, we have a better option. WE WOULD WANT TO BLAME THE CELEBRITY.

Yes, leave the option to the celebrity. Put the blame square on the advertiser and agencies.

ASCI can make an appeal to the celebrities. And these are few overused, overexposed group of people, who can even be contacted on one-to-one basis.



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One response to “Sanjeev Kotnala: Why I fail to understand ASCI’s proposed guidelines on celebrities”

  1. Prabhakar Mundkur says:

    Shouldn’t celebrities and regular models who endorse products be treated with the same scale?

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