Sports Figures and Brand Endorsements: Should they be held liable for irresponsible endorsements?

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“Boost is the secret of my energy,” said Sachin Tendulkar swinging his bat and smiling on-screen. It is no secret that every child born in 90s vividly associated Boost (Kids’ Energy Drink) with Sachin Tendulkar, believing that this was the drink that Sachin had every morning and hence threw a million tantrums to their mothers demanding for the same. Boost had gained tremendously popularity among children, nurturing their innocent idea that, anyone, who has the drink can be the future ‘Sachin Tendulkar’. Such was the effect of a celebrated Sports Figure endorsing a Kids’ Energy Drink  on the masses.

Media is a powerful tool that influences public opinion. Media as a tool can build or destroy brands. Companies and advertisers work together, putting in days of toil and hard work, to churn out a Marketing Campaign using the most effective Media Mix and a “celebrated” face- called the “Brand Endorser” or the “Brand Ambassador.” This face for most obvious reasons, range from movie stars, sports men to comedians alike. However, the advantage of using a Sports Figure is the immense attachment that people have towards sportsmen over any other public figure. The average man who watches a Sportsperson on television or his mobile, has a sense of belonging and develops a passive intimate relationship with that Sportsperson. Not to forget, people have build hotels in the names of their favorite sports figure and such is the manifestation of their love.

The influence that a Brand Endorser has on the masses is no rocket science. Having a Sports figure as an Endorser psychologically convinces the consumer that the product is of high quality. Since the level of trust in these sportsmen is relatively high, the consumers are compelled to believe that product can also be trusted with. Marketers use this primary effect of Endorsements to their advantage and roll out products after products using this “celebrated face.”

The consumers blindly believe that these products are being personally used by these Sportsmen and have been tried-and-tested.  But the question that is of concern, is whether these Sportspersons who act as endorsers have an inherent ethical responsibility in selecting the products that they associate with, with utmost caution? Should they, in all sense of ethicality, reject endorsement offers that are to promote products of substandard quality or of deceiving nature?

One such classic example of an endorsement gone wrong, among Indian Sports men, is that of the cricket player Mahendra Singh Dhoni and Amrapali Group in Noida. Mahendra Singh Dhoni was the official brand endorser of the Realty Group. But the cricketer had to eventually call quits, after a massive Twitter Campaign was launched by the disgruntled buyers asking the cricketer to disassociate himself from the builder or force the company to ensure completion of pending work.  Over 4000 buyers of the Group’s Golf Home Projects were the worst sufferers after the real estate giant delayed the possession by 15 months and stalling the construction work. Mahendra Singh Dhoni has been the brand ambassador of the company in connection to his wife being a stakeholder of the company. However, on realising the shortcomings of such as association, he chose to cancel the deal. ( PTI, MS Dhoni quits as Amrapali Brand Ambassador after Twitter furore, The Indian Express)

The proposed Consumer Protection Bill, 2015 has targeted the Celebrities/ Sports Personalities

Under the proposed provisions of the bill, celebrities making false and misleading claims can be slapped with heavy penalties. A  need for these provisions has stemmed from the Maggi controversy- which put in the radar, a truckload of celebrities and sportspersons whose earnings from endorsements has only doubled in the past few years. Initially, a lot of debate revolved around where there should be a jail term for the said offence. But, after much deliberation they decided to stick with hefty penalties. As of now, certain sections of the Indian Penal Code and Food Safety and Standards Act act as guardians, but the bill seeks to create a stringent mechanism in regulating endorsements.

In the wake of consumer protection and safety measures, such a strict measure has been applauded by many. But many have also contended that in commercial contracts concerning Endorsements a simple clause mentioning “no liability” could save the endorsers from being held accountable.

Various jurisdictions around the world  have made it a compulsion for endorsers to endorse only those products that they have personally used. This not only increases the trust of the consumers, but also increases the chances for such wrongful endorsers to be held accountable. If the legislators really wanted the endorsers in the purview, such a condition could have rightfully served the purpose of bringing in ethical responsibility.

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Preethi Kavilikatta

Preethi Kavilikatta

Preethi Kavilikatta is a Journalism and Law graduate from Mumbai. An alumna of University of Mumbai & Symbiosis Law School, Pune. Her interest for Sports Law is new-found and would love to learn a lot more in the coming future. She is passionate about writing, is a bleeding heart and loves English Literature.
Preethi Kavilikatta

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