Learning from the Dhoni-Amrapali Saga

By Suraj Ramnath and Ashee Sharma , afaqs!, New Delhi | In Advertising | April 19, 2016
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The incident has rekindled the debate on whether brand ambassadors are liable when the products they endorse start circling the drain. Reactions and lessons.

Every now and then, the spotlight comes back onto the trappings of stardom. Last year, when Maggi found itself in a muddle, we explored whether celebrities are in any way liable if the products they associate themselves with fail to deliver on the very promise they're employed to convey. This time, we re-examine the subject with a Dhoni-shaped lens.

Indian cricketer Mahendra Singh Dhoni recently resigned as the brand ambassador of Amrapali, a real estate company, following a social media 'campaign' (#AmrapaliMisuseDhoni) initiated by miffed consumers, because several projects taken up by the group have been stalled. Few trolled him, while others implored him to disassociate himself from the brand.

MS Dhoni featuring in Amrapali's ad

While reports of possible prison time for celebrities caught in the middle of such product failures do the rounds, we take a look at whether and what one can learn from this saga. The biggest takeaway that emerged was the importance of self preservation - celebrities ought to be more mindful than they presently are while picking brands.

Some questions emerged as well. Is social media the villain here? Have we, as a people, become intolerant? Are celebrities soft targets?

A still of MS Dhoni from Amrapali's official website

The Advertising Standards Council of India comes into the picture only if a given ad is in violation of its code. While ASCI is used to hauling up brands for over-promising in advertisements (of the '100 per cent results guaranteed' kind, for instance), the team is not obligated to take action if the advertiser over-promises for real.

Edited Excerpts.

Sanjay Tripathy, senior EVP, marketing, products, digital and e-commerce, HDFC Life

Sanjay Tripathy

Celebrities endorse brands basis some homework, and I am sure the intent is right in most cases. It is not always possible for a celebrity to understand each aspect of the business. However, how strongly she/he reacts during situations like these, is important.

In the future, with the government enforcing strict rules around endorsements, celebrities will need to do deeper research into the brands and business they select. They'll have to monitor the relationship on a regular basis in order to not get caught on the wrong foot.

Nima Namchu, chief creative officer, Havas Worldwide

Nima Namchu

We really don't know how many people went and bought the property just because Dhoni's face is on it. And only if Dhoni went out of the way and guaranteed something, should he be held responsible. Everybody who represents the brand suffers from it, not just celebrities. Yes, they are the most written about but even people who work for the company haven't lived up to the promise. So when you represent a company or brand, you will be targeted.

Is it fair or unfair? It's part of the territory. I don't think celebrities can do anything to control the damage because the damage lies within the product. This issue is about commercial deals. Celebrities do have the stature to try and fix things, though.

Social media has given people an easy way to get back at brands and people. So, it is important for brands and companies to be careful about what they do. When consumers don't feel protected, as is the case when buying real estate, they take to social media to teach brands a lesson. One may call this intolerance.

Truth is, brands tend to follow up on complaints on Twitter; it's all about reputation.

Vibha Desai, independent brand consultant

Vibha Desai

Celebrities are easy targets. But then, because they are paid pots, they need to take some responsibility. You cannot be too sympathetic towards them. The good thing is that memories are pretty short. There is a 'dhamaka' every once in a while... and as they say, for celebrities, there is no such thing as 'bad publicity'.

That said, celebrities should do some analysis, check the company they are endorsing and not let it be only about the money. Your personal brand, eventually, has more to offer than just the monetary transaction. You stand for so many things and when you are trying to transfer those attributes to another brand, check it out and see what it means.

Generally speaking, people have become intolerant. Previously, you would write a letter to an editor which never got published. You were nobody. Today, everybody feels significant and they make edgy and vicious comments at times. It helps them stand out in the social media crowd.

Indranil Das Blah, founding partner CAA Kwan and chief executive officer, Mumbai City FC (ISL team)

Indranil Das Blah

What this means for celebrities is that, today, they have to be a lot more careful about the kind of brands they pick. Before you go ahead with an association, make sure you do your background check. Whoever you are dealing with, make sure they have cleared their legal policies. Simply put, be more aware about who you get into bed with.

Today, celebrities are accessible through social media. They can't do much to control the damage because by being on social media, you have agreed to give the masses that access.

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