Your favourite celebrity might want to wish you a happy birthday and end up promoting a brand instead. Here’s how.
The boundary between personal and promotional content is becoming increasingly blurred. The allure of personalised celebrity videos on platforms, initially designed to bring joy to individual fans, can often be misused for marketing means by prying brands. And the worst part is, celebrities are often unaware of such practices.
Rohit Mittal, CEO of Stilt, a financial resources and immigration guidance platform for students and immigrants in the U.S, recently took to X (formerly Twitter) to boast about a cost-cutting 'growth hack' that involved obtaining congratulatory messages from celebrities through Indian copycat platforms of Cameo, an app that allows generic users to request personalised video messages from celebrities for a fee.
Mittal revealed that the alternative platforms, which replicated Cameo's model, allowed Stilt to acquire celebrity messages at a fraction of the cost. "It cost us only $500 and generated a 200x return on spends," Mittal posted on X. The post gained traction, and many respondents pointed out conspicuous violations of guidelines and ethics. Mittal deleted the post soon after.
The ethical implications of this strategy have raised concerns. While the messages are intended for personal use, there is uncertainty about whether the celebrities are aware of the context in which their messages are being employed. Celebrities often charge substantial fees for appearing in advertisements, and the use of their faces in promotional content for a nominal amount to a third party has sparked a debate over the ethics of such practices.
As per Manisha Kapoor, who is the CEO and secretary general at the Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI), this incident of the misuse of personalised celebrity video messages for Facebook ads or even personalised commercial messages is a violation of ASCI's Code for Self-Regulation in Advertising. The Code clearly states that advertisements should not contain any reference to a person without explicit permission in a way that confers an unjustified advantage on the product or brings the person into ridicule or disrepute.
Kapoor says, “In this case, it appears that the celebrity's consent was not explicitly taken and the content has been repurposed for advertising without authorisation. This raises ethical concerns and also potentially breaches of the ASCI Code Chapter I on misleading advertisements."
As stars lend their voices to unsuspecting corporate agendas, the lines between authenticity and exploitation are painted in broad strokes. The appeal of intimate shout-outs colliding with the stark reality of commercial opportunism could also have severe reputational concerns for the celebrities.
You cannot use the likeness of a celebrity without them being consensually aware of it. But the rules of caveat emptor apply.Chandramouli Nilakantan, CEO of TRA Research
But how much of the blame for these questionable collaborations can fall on celebrities themselves? As per Chandramouli Nilakantan, CEO of TRA Research, celebrities need to be careful about the things they sign up for.
He says, “You cannot use the likeness of a celebrity without them being consensually aware of it. But the rules of caveat emptor apply. This means, the buyer, or in this case a celebrity, must be aware of the contract they’ve signed. If they aren’t, then I am sure ASCI will pick it up in a week’s time.”
As per Nilakantan, if the celebrities don’t foresee such mishaps and take preemptive measures, then association with these questionable ads becomes unavoidable. “If the celebrities don’t do their due diligence, then there isn’t much they can do when things go haywire. Beyond this, ASCI can only make the brand take down the ad, but the celebrity’s name gets attached” he says.
From a celebrity perspective, everything should be in contract, mentioning all aspects, like through what mediums the star’s face will be used, for what duration, and on what platforms it will be leveraged.Ramya Ramachandran, founder, Whoppl
Ramya Ramachandran, founder, Whoppl stated, “From a celebrity perspective, everything should be in contract, mentioning all aspects, like through what mediums the star’s face will be used, for what duration, and on what platforms it will be leveraged. Also, considering digital usage as deep fakes is common now. This should be a part of due diligence in terms of the talent management team. Before any association, there should be a thorough contract in place.”
Naresh Gupta, co-founder, Bang In The Middle, says that the act itself is worthy of condemnation, and breaches all business ethics. He says, “It’s blatant cheating and violation of all business ethics. I wish the Bollywood celebs take them to the cleaners and Meta bans them for life. These brands think they can push boundaries, but that is not true.”