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Points of View - Maggi Muddle: Are ambassadors liable when brands get into trouble?

By Saumya Tewari and Ashee Sharma , afaqs!, New Delhi | In Marketing | June 02, 2015
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To what extent are celebrity ambassadors responsible for the brands they endorse?

Maggi recently came under the scanner after samples collected by the Uttar Pradesh Food Safety and Drug Administration were reported to contain mono sodium glutamate (MSG) and lead above the permissible limits. Following the scrutiny, legal notices were served on Amitabh Bachchan, Madhuri Dixit and Preity Zinta for endorsing and promoting Maggi as a healthy snack.

Maggi

Although Nestle India has denied the allegations on social media, the dust around the issue does not seem to be settling soon - neither for the brand nor for the celebrities. In what could spell further trouble for them, the government has said that stars endorsing the 'two-minute' noodle may face action once the reports are out.

afaqs! reached out to industry experts seeking their opinion on the issue...

KV Sridhar, chief creative office, SapientNitro

KV Sridhar

I find it ridiculous that celebrities are being penalised for a brand that is legally allowed to be manufactured, distributed and sold. There are two parts to this issue - legal and moral.

Legally, if something goes wrong on a product level, the manufacturer or the owner is liable. Celebrity endorsers are mere messengers who can do primary research on the company and its products before associating with any brand. Beyond a point nobody has a clue and celebrities usually go by the reputation of the company and its brands. Their legal experts help them create a contract, which they must abide to.

Maggi is being sold in various shops. My question is: if something is allowed to be manufactured, distributed and sold how can a messenger be penalised for associating with a well-known brand?

When people go to a local kirana store and buy products on the recommendation of the shop owner because they trust and understand him, can he be penalised if something goes wrong with the product recommendation he has made? In the same manner, one cannot indict advertising and media agencies that create and distribute the advertising campaigns.

Advertising and promoting a banned substance like cocaine is definitely punishable. However, expecting actors and sportspersons to have technical knowledge of ingredients being used by a well-known brand is strange.

Vicky Shah, advocate

Vicky Shah

Manav Sethi

Manish Porwal

Companies can put a disclaimer before an ad stating whether the celebrity endorsing the product uses it or not. Ads featuring celebrities using any product and influencing consumers to buy it makes them liable if things go wrong with that brand.

Every celebrity contract has a liability clause mentioned in the agreement. It clearly mentions that in case of any eventuality the company for which the celebrity endorser is giving his/her services will take care of all legal proceedings. If this clause is not clearly mentioned in the contract then the liability will rest with the celebrity.

Manav Sethi, group CMO, Askme

As far as the liability of celebrities is concerned, it should stem from the nature of the contract and the relationship. However, celebrities should not be penalised for any wrongdoing by the product or brand, not even legally. But yes, from a moral standpoint, it is each to his own.

So if you are endorsing a tobacco brand and thus promulgating the use of tobacco, from a celebrity point of view, you should be careful. But if your moral standards allow, then so be it. On this particular standpoint of Maggi, my view remains the same that you cannot hold the celebrity responsible for a bad consumer experience.

Manish Porwal, managing director, Alchemist Marketing & Talent Solutions

The issue has both legal and moral implications. The product story belongs to the brand and its company. A celebrity cannot go inside it dissecting the ingredients that go in the making of a product.

If a legal notice is being served to the ambassador of a brand then it must go to everyone who has been involved in the making of the advertising campaign. Celebs are being penalised just because they are famous, but eventually the company will take care of it.

But when it comes to moral responsibility, there's a thin line between the legally correct and the morally incorrect and being both legally and morally correct. A product like Maggi has been in the market for decades, generations have been brought up on it and nobody has ever complained about it.

Therefore, if names like Madhuri Dixit and Amitabh Bachchan have been endorsing it one cannot blame them. If it is proved that the product is unhealthy then they must pull out of it because it affects even their equity.

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