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In an interesting case, District Consumer Redressal Forum in Kerala (CC 345/12) recently passed an order penalizing the Malayalam movie actor Anoop Menon https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anoop_Menon and the manufacturers of Dhathri Hair Cream https://www.dhathri.com/hair-protector/p/15327821 for making false claims in an advertisement issued in 2012. The movie star and Dhathri were ordered to pay compensation to the complainant and a fine imposed on the medical store that sold the hair cream. The case was based on the old Consumer Protection Act, which has been revised to make celebrities responsible while taking up brand endorsements. Interestingly, the new Consumer Protection Act of 2019, which came into force on July 20, 2020, has express provisions for fixing liability on the endorsers. It also provides for imposing fine which may extend to ten lakh rupees (approx. USD 14,000) and up to fifty lakh rupees (approx. USD 70,000) for every subsequent contravention. The Authority may further prohibit the endorser of a false or misleading advertisement from making endorsement of any product or service
The complainant, Mr. Francis Vadakkan, filed the complaint against A-One Medicals, Dhatri Ayurveda Pvt. Ltd., and Anoop Menon, stating that he had bought the Dhathri Hair Cream after seeing a product advertisement. The advertisement featuring the actor Anoop Menon promised lush hair growth after six weeks of use. The complainant alleged that even though he used the product as per the directions, there were no improvements. He further stated that his family and friends ridiculed him for buying the product, and he felt humiliated by the same. Consequently, he approached the forum seeking Rs. 500,000 (approx. US $6900) as compensation for deficiency in services and the corresponding mental agony.
Observations of the Forum
In an interesting turn of events during the proceedings, the actor Anoop Menon admitted that he had never used the product and only used a hair oil prepared by his mother at home. He further submitted that he was not aware of the product’s precise nature, and he thought it was merely a product for hair care rather than hair growth.
The Consumer Forum was extremely critical of brand advertisements that make false claims to sell products. Some of the crucial observations of the Consumer Forum were as follows:
- The complainant did not question the effectiveness of ayurvedic medicines, but whether he got the required result as promised through attractive advertisements. The brand ambassador appeared in the advert without even using the product, and the manufacturer could not deliver the results of the product as claimed by him.
- The precautions mentioned in the brochure and the product were printed in such a way that it was not even visible when looked at with the help of a magnifying glass.
- If there were no advertisements, the prices of products would be halved. Thus, the consumer would have been able to save that much amount. Basically, advertisements are a trick to cause a consumerist desire in people. A clever tactic to make people buy products.
- Media and newspapers have forgotten their journalistic duties to become only publishers of advertisements. Advertisements should help the growth of an informed consumer culture, enabling the consumer to make the right choices by rejecting bogus products.
Arriving at the above conclusion, the District Consumer Redressal Forum ordered the actor Anoop Menon to make sure of the exact nature of the product and the product’s credibility before endorsing the product. It further directed the actor and Dhathri Ayurveda Pvt. Ltd. to pay a compensation of Rs. 10,000 (approx. Us $ 125) each and levied a fine of Rs. 3000 on A-One Medicals, the shop which sold the Hair Cream.
The consumer forum order comes as a warning for celebrities to act responsibly when asked to make tall claims about product efficacy. The celebrity appeal has a strong consumer pull, and consumers buy the products to associate with the celebrity image. Further, trust the endorsements as truth. The decision is not only a reminder for celebrities and social media influencers of the ASCI guidelines on celebrity endorsements but also brand owners in terms of bad PR such findings can bring.