Gokul Krishnamoorthy
Jun 02, 2015

Can we define the rules before playing this 'Sue the ambassadors' game?

Minister's comments are a cause for worry; for celebs, ad agencies and media

Can we define the rules before playing this 'Sue the ambassadors' game?
What makes a bad TV spot bearable? Often, it's a celebrity. But that might soon change, if what's transpiring with Maggi's ambassadors doesn't change track.
The headlines tell the story. Today's edition of The Hindu has this on its front page: ''Bollywood actors land in a soup over Maggi row'. In his comments published in the report (and in several others), union food minister Ram Vilas Paswan has made it abundantly clear that the brand, its ambassadors, ad agencies and even media used could be liable.
Elsewhere, club sodas are inspiring people to make it large, like their heroes. An Indian Idol and a cricket icon do the karaoke for yet another surrogate ad for an alcohol brand.
But this is different; this is food, and food targeted at children. So we must treat it differently. Including in how we affix liability to brand ambassadors? And ad agencies? And media owners?
There is something vividly irrational about holding a brand ambassador liable for a product endorsement, unless the said ambassador is an expert on the subject matter. So if a medical practitioner is making a false claim, then yes, by all means, sue him or her. If it's a celebrity, perhaps we then need to draw the boundaries on what they should and should not say.
Will we sue them for all the false claims made in the ad, or only the claims that they make to the audience? Will keeping them distanced from any product specification help avoid liability?
Surely, for a much loved household brand like Maggi, a celebrity is not going to be too cautious before signing on the dotted line. Until now, at least. We certainly can't expect them to understand product composition and lead/MSG levels either.
Madhuri Dixit, Amitabh Bachchan and Preity Zinta are as guilty as the rest of India that trusted, and continues to trust, its favourite instant noodles brand.
This story is set to continue over the next few days and we'll be watching closely. If indeed the endorsers face the music, it will be unfortunate, and unfair. Ban the product if it's that harmful, or sell it with the necessary warnings.
I'll leave it there for now, grab my bowl of Maggi, and head to work.
(The author is managing editor, Campaign India.)
Campaign India