21 Apr 2016 13:52 IST

Social media glare may make celebrities wary of endorsing brands

Advertisers’ hype, unmet promises could singe their fortunes, land them in court

MS Dhoni, captain of India’s T20 and ODI cricket teams, may have managed to deftly sweep away questions over his retirement but he was on the back foot facing beamers over his role as brand ambassador of NCR-based realty firm Amrapali Group.

As distressed home buyers of the company’s Sapphire project teamed up for a social media campaign, the hashtag #AmrapaliMisuseDhoni went viral, turning the lens on the real estate sector, which ropes in celebrities to attract buyers and where delays in home deliveries have become the norm.

While Parliament has passed the much needed Real Estate Bill, the sector currently awaits the formation of regulatory authorities in states.

Real estate deals apart, overall, the claims made by brands and brand ambassadors are increasingly coming under scrutiny across sectors, thanks to social media.

“The real estate sector is becoming like a commodity, which has led real estate players to increasingly depend on celebrities to catch eyeballs,” says brand expert Harish Bijoor.

Easy pickings

Real estate endorsement deals have, in fact, become easy pickings in the past few years, say experts. Builders, too, have jumped on to the brand bandwagon. Mahagun Developers has roped in Shahrukh Khan, while Mumbai-based Lodha Group recently announced that Akshay Kumar and Twinkle Khanna will endorse their project, ‘Amra’.

Supertech, in December last year, had announced tie-ups with Sania Mirza, Shikhar Dhawan, Jyoti Randhawa and Pullela Gopichand for sports academies at Sports Village, its upcoming housing project in Greater Noida. Gaursons has tied up with Saina Nehwal and Madan Lal for academies at its project in Greater Noida.

Whether it was the Maggi saga, which put brand ambassadors under a cloud last year or Aamir Khan’s “intolerance” remarks, which led to Snapdeal taking flak, the relationships between brands and brand ambassadors is increasingly coming under scrutiny.

Commenting on the Indian captain’s disassociation from his brand, Anil Kumar Sharma, CMD of Amrapali Group, said: “MS Dhoni is no longer our brand ambassador, as his name and image got affected due to this association and for no fault of his. So, we have decided mutually to discontinue the endorsement.”

On reports that Sakshi Dhoni holds a 25 per cent stake as director in a firm established by Amrapali Group, he said: “This firm was established with the objective of charity, whose main motive was to serve the poor and needy through a charitable hospital. But no activities were performed and no transaction has been done through this firm. So, there is no question of any revenue generating financial activity…”

Says Manoj Gaur, MD, Gaursons India: “Real estate is like any other product. If I buy a Hyundai car and I have some trouble, will I hold Shahrukh Khan responsible for it? The fact is marketing has nothing to do with the final product. Celebrity brand ambassadors are used to ensure wider reach for the product and attract buyer attention. The final product is sold on the company’s merit.”

With regards to the Amrapali case, Gaur asks: “Did buyers go for the project just because Dhoni was endorsing it?”

While real estate is not among the top categories in misleading advertising, more awareness is needed among consumers so they know where they can make complaints against misleading claims, says Shweta Purandare, Secretary General, Advertising Standards Council of India.

Gaur, who is also President of realtors’ apex body CREDAI for Delhi-NCR, adds: “This case is an individual project problem, but as CREDAI, we have asked the builder to sit down with buyers and discuss the issue. The communication gap with buyers needs to be bridged.”

Typically, brand endorsement deals have indemnity clauses, which protect brand ambassadors from liabilities in case brands have made false claims.

Celebrity managers have been stating that celebrities have become even more stringent about having such clauses in recent times.

However if a Parliamentary Standing Committee’s recommendations for changes in the Consumer Protection Bill are accepted, then celebrities may face a jail term as well as fines if they endorse brands that make inaccurate claims.

However, Anirban Das Blah, MD at celebrity management firm CAA-KWAN, said that this is cheap populism and that it is impossible for a celebrity to determine the veracity of the claims made by a brand.Blah said that if any changes are brought in the law, celebrity management firms are bound to take it to the courts.

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