Updated: September 1, 2016 12:02:29 am
Baba Ramdev is always making news. Literally. You can’t miss him these days. Switch on a Hindi news channel and he will appear before, during and after news round-ups, current affairs shows, or headline news. Watch any Hindi news channel — from Aaj Tak to India News and everything in between on your remote control — and in almost every instance, you will see him looking back at you with that benign expression of benediction. The news — brought to you by Patanjali Ayurved Ltd.
The yoga guru is now a major sponsor of news. His company employs celebrities such as Hema Malini to persuade us to eat his Marie biscuits instead of other brands. Or use his toothpaste. His oils, his atta, his instant noodles, his masalas — the latter puts him in direct competition with another frequent advertiser on news and entertainment channels, MDH, besides MNCs like Nestle, Colgate-Palmolive and Hindustan Unilever, to name just a few.
Baba Ramdev and Mahashay Dharampal Gulati of MDH fame have more in common than just being major TV advertisers. Both gentlemen make a point of appearing in the advertisements for their companies. Ramdev’s case is more piquant: The yoga guru is a celebrity. Thus, we have a celebrity, appearing in commercials to promote his own products — very different from Hema Malini appearing for his biscuits.
Which raises a few interesting possibilities: First, if Baba Ramdev sponsors the news, can news channels report on him with impunity and without bias? The same could be asked of other companies who sponsor news; the difference is that Ramdev has positioned himself as a public figure, a spiritual guru, a social and political activist with strong views on many subjects — many of which he frequently airs on Aastha channel owned by him — that could be open to questioning.
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Second, since he is a celebrity and he endorses his own products, isn’t he likely to be covered by new proposals to the Consumer Protection Bill which seek to hold a celebrity responsible for any false claims in the commercial?
If you have watched his commercials for toothpaste which are on air currently, they make fulsome claims for white, bright, strong teeth and scorn other brands.
Media reports say Virat Kohli sponsors 13-14 products, probably making him the highest paid celebrity to endorse a variety of products. Like Sachin Tendulkar, he has advertised for Boost, an energy drink which makes many claims, not all of which are probably true. So he needs to be careful too. Along with Shah Rukh Khan, and Amitabh Bachchan whom we see regularly in TV commercials.
That celebrities should bear some responsibility for products they lend themselves to, seems inarguable: People who look up to them might believe what they say or believe in a product’s qualities because of the celebrity endorsement.
Mahendra Singh Dhoni learnt of these pitfalls after he had to resign as brand ambassador for Amrapali following a public outcry over the company’s alleged failure to meet the construction deadlines of a housing project in Noida.
And is it our imagination or has advertising for fairness creams diminished in the last few months? If ever there was an abomination, this is it. However, that it goes against the grain, didn’t stop Shah Rukh Khan advertising for Fair and Handsome, a product that claims to lighten skin tone in a matter of weeks — like all products in this category.
That claim is the kind that needs the Consumer Protection Bill. Not only can it be a false claim, but also, it does not spell out the possible harmful side effects of using chemicals which “tone down” skin colour.
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