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Maggi is in a soup and it’s a piping hot one with a generous serving of monosodium glutamate (MSG) and lead. This is a disturbing development with a subplot where petitions have been filed against celebrities who over the decades have endorsed this two-minute ‘magic’ dish.

The ongoing Maggi controversy has brought to the front a fallacy: Our belief in whatever celebrities say. Celebrity endorsement is a proven advertisement strategy that helps boost the sales of virtually any product–from cement to hair oil, and from toothpaste to insurance schemes. At times the celebrity-product relation is weird but filmmakers and we the public are too star-struck to care. Otherwise how can you explain Kate Upton in a Game of War commercial or Sylvester Stallone in a pudding advertisement!
To show that our celebs care two hoots about social responsibility, one just has to look at the advertisements they endorse: At least two top film actors have endorsed batteries associated with a company linked to the 1984 Bhopal Gas tragedy. And let’s not get into the debate of fairness creams and soft drinks.

For a product that essentially has nothing positive to claim, but at the same time a lot to hide, the perfect cover would be a celebrity endorsing it. In this regard, surrogate advertising seems to be the favorite choice for film stars breaking language barriers across the country.

It gives the impression that most of the celebs do not care or might not even know about the product they endorse–and that speaks a lot about the celebs we revere.

There are instances, however, when celebrities try to display their socially responsible side, but the twist in the plot is only evident at a later stage. More often than not celebrity activism is seen when a commercial motive is attached to it. The example that readily comes to mind is that of Hindi film actor Aamir Khan. Khan, a day before the DVD release of his movie Rang De Basanti in April 2006, joined protests in New Delhi against the Bhopal Gas tragedy and even extended support to the Narmada Bachao Andolan. Little support of that kind has been seen since then. With his TV show Satyamev Jayate, Khan has transformed into a ‘social crusader’, talking from female foeticide to alcohol abuse–but I’m still waiting for an episode in which he discusses at length about the ill-effects of aerated beverages. It was not long ago that he was closely associated with a cola brand.

Seldom do celebrities cancel an endorsement or apologise for lending their face and/or voice to a cause that is not above board. Last year Hollywood actor Scarlett Johansson was under fire for endorsing a product that had a factory in the settlement area in occupied West Bank. More recently, Nicole Kidman was criticised for appearing in an advertisement of a West Asian airline that reportedly treated its female employees ‘deplorably’.

While it would be wrong to condemn celebrities one and all, the socially-aware and conscious ones are few and far between. They are outshone by the superstars.

Celebrities, as people who have great influence over millions of people, should be more conscious of the decisions they take. Their social responsibility does not end in doing a health awareness campaign or a public service message. It should extend to the million dollar brands they choose to endorse – they owe it to society.

Celebrity endorsement is not condemnable as long as celebs do to not exploit their influence to misinform the public.

The current ‘Maggi soup’ should be a wakeup call. It is for the court to decide whether celebs should be held responsible if the products they endorse fail to meet the promised standards. But it’ll serve good if this episode forces our ‘stars’ to be more responsible the next time they sign the dotted line.
www.hindustantimes.com