The graahak is aware, time for rest of the industry to catch up

In August this year, the Parliament gave its nod to the landmark Consumer Protection Act, 2019 which aims to protect the rights of consumers by establishing authorities for timely and effective administration and settlement of consumers’ dispute. Among the provisions of the Act, a Central Consumer Protection Authority (CCPA) is to be created that will handle cases related to consumer rights, misleading advertisements, unfair trade practices, imposition of penalties for erring parties. As part of the new Act, celeb endorsers, too, will be penalised for appearing in misleading ads. 

Thus, the Act gives consumer rights more teeth. 

Consumers have been facing a harrowing time getting redressal for their complaints. In a recent instance, Uttar Pradesh’s Muzaffarnagar consumer court fined Bollywood actors Govinda and Jackie Shroff for endorsing a pain relief oil that didn’t deliver any benefits as promised. The fine amount was a paltry Rs 20,000, and the decision came after a period of seven years. The company that produced the oil was also penalised. 

As per media reports, the complaint was filed by Abhinav Agarwal, a Muzaffarnagar-based lawyer, back in July 2012. He had bought a pain relief oil, priced at Rs 3,600, that claimed in its ad to provide pain relief in 15 days. The ad also claimed a full refund in case there aren’t any visible results. Agarwal had bought the oil for his father, who didn’t get any relief from pain. 

After failing to receive proper redressal from the Madhya Pradesh based company, Agarwal filed a complaint in the consumer court. The court directed the company, Govinda, Jackie Shroff, Telemart Shopping Network and Max Communications to pay Rs 20,000 as compensation to Agarwal. The company was also ordered to refund the Rs 3,600 paid by Agarwal along with an interest of 9 per cent per annum and other legal expenses. 

It took a lawyer seven years to get a redressal. One can only image what an ordinary consumer has to go through. 

According to a report, 49% consumers depend on influencer recommendations to purchase a product. Thus, it becomes the responsibility of the celeb endorser to check the antecedents of the brand/ company he/she is endorsing. 

As business strategist Lloyd Mathias explained, “A brand ambassador, whether it is Govinda or Jackie Shroff or someone more contemporary, should do their diligence before taking on any product category. The responsibility of brand ambassadors is much more than just endorsing a product and taking money for it. However, some of them cannot do their due diligence and look into the product for any fraud, for which in turn they should have a clause which mentions that if any fraud is found in the future, the company is liable to pay for it. Brand ambassadors cannot lend their name and credibility to just about anyone, because looking at them many people will make a purchase decision.” 

Speaking on the important role of the judiciary, Mathias said, “The law should be tightened against any false claims made by advertisers or the brand to penalise them immediately. The journey a consumer goes through in this situation is completely unjustified. A complaint filed in the consumer forum or an industry regulation body like ASCI also has the responsibility to close the loop and come back to the consumer. If it won’t do that, it is a failing.” 

ASCI and its Consumer Complaints Council has been monitoring ads in the country and taking action against ads that violate its Advertising Code. But there have often been calls to give the body more teeth. Adgully reached out to ASCI for their comments on tackling misleading ads, however, a response was awaited at the time of filing this report. 

There are many companies – both big and small – who produce products that claim to do extraordinary things – creams that make one’s skin fairer or a hair oil that promises to give bald people a headful of hair, or increase height, or get a student that dream admission in an engineering college. Quite a few of such ads sport well-known faces from films or sports. Take for example, Johnson & Johnson’s ad for Benadryl cough syrup, which claimed, “50 Years Doctor’s Trust”, with the voice-over claiming: “Pachchaas saaloon se doctoron ka bharosa”. The survey relied upon for the claim was conducted in the year 2012 and the interviewed doctors had less than 20 years of clinical experience, said ASCI, according to media reports. This was reported as inadequately substantiated and misleading. 

For July 2019, ASCI reported that they had received about 498 complaints against ads, out which 299 were upheld. 151 advertisements were promptly removed by the advertisers after being reached out by ASCI. While brands should always have a backing to what they claim to provide via their product, consumers themselves too need to be aware of their purchases. 

Vani Gupta Dandia, Growth Maverick at CherryPeachPlum Growth Partners, commented, “The consumer has to be aware as to what he or she is purchasing.” She further said, “Brands, too, should have the integrity to claim what the product can actually deliver. In India, the law around this is very suspect. For example, everybody gets an FSSAI stamp. What the product actually can deliver shows the integrity of the brand and the efforts along with clinical testing or the procedure they have had. In India, there are many smaller or local brands that get away with claims that have very little or no backing. When a consumer is buying a product which isn’t made by the top players in the market, he or she should know that they are running a risk.” 

To get a consumer’s perspective, we reached out to Professor Kalpana Rai Menon, Department Head, SM Shetty College, Powai, who said, “I have seen this ad before and frankly speaking, I wouldn’t have bought it.” She further said, “It is great that he fought the case for so long, because people normally give up. The fact that he is receiving the money too is a big thing. This motivates others to do the same because there are many products in the market that have several claims like stopping hair fall or making your skin fairer, but they never work.” 

While the onus lies on the consumers to check the veracity of the claims that brands make, celeb endorsers also need to adopt a more responsible attitude while signing on with a brand – finding out whether the brand that they are lending their face to actually delivers on its promise. 

There is also a huge divide on what the Consumer Protection law provides and the actual implementation on-ground. What is the success rate of cases filed in consumer courts seeking redressal? How many celeb endorsers have been penalised for endorsing brands in misleading ads? A lot of thoughts to ponder on.


Also Read:

How New Consumer Protection Bill, 2019 will take on false & misleading ads

Stringent provisions proposed against misleading ads: Prime Minister Modi


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