For Madhuri Dixit, Amitabh Bachchan and Preity Zinta, there’s bad news, and there’s good news.

First, the bad news.

Regardless of what you may think about the Maggi noodles issue, as Delhi banned the sale of the snack as it investigated charges that it contains excessive quantities of lead, holding these three celebrities responsible for misleading or false claims in advertising is not just some weird new rule made up by some local authority in Uttar Pradesh. In fact, it is part of a global trend that has been gathering momentum over the years with a view to to protect the consumer.

In fact, in 2008 the US Federal Trade Commission proposed a fresh set of "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising". One key part of that was the provision that in the case of any misleading or false advertisement, it should not just be the advertiser who would be liable, but also any celebrity endorser who may have been involved.

But, interestingly, the Federal Trade Commission acknowledged that "well-known persons can appear in advertising without being deemed endorsers" of a product.

In other words, the celebrity might be deemed to be like any other model taking part in an ad, depending on the nature of the ad itself. (And this, of course, this is where the good news comes in.)

According to the Federal Trade Commission, in order to establish liability on the part of the celebrity, the basic question, therefore, is this: is the celebrity merely a paid actor in the ad? Or is he (or she) an actual endorser of the product?

Paid Actors vs Endorsers

Which means we need to examine the difference between being "a paid actor" and being an "endorser".

According to the Federal Trade Commission, endorsement is "any advertising message (including verbal statements, demonstrations or depictions of the name, signature, likeness or other identifying personal characteristics of an individual or the name or seal of an organisation) that consumers are likely to believe reflects the opinions, beliefs, findings or experiences of a party other than the sponsoring advertiser".

There is, therefore, a thin – but very significant – line between the two: acting, and endorsing. To understand the difference between the two, let us see what, a leading not-for-profit consumer guidance website, has to say. Legally speaking, it says, an actor may be merely a spokesperson who is making a statement on behalf of some other party.

But an endorser is something else: he is a person who is expressing his actual, personal approval of the product, based on his own actual, personal beliefs or convictions. (That’s why he is called an ‘endorser’: he is personally endorsing it.)

To illustrate this point, let us compare two ads: Amitabh Bachchan in a Maggi noodles ad, and – just for example – Aishwarya Rai in a L’Oreal ad.

Although both Bachchan and Rai are obviously being paid for appearing in these two ads respectively, if you watch the ads you’ll see there is an important difference.

Amitabh Bachchan Maggi ad


Bachchan is playing the role of a mere actor, or spokesperson. He doesn’t express any personal approval of the product: he is merely playing his part in the script, just as any ordinary model would do.

(And, likewise, one can say that Madhuri Dixit simply plays the role of an actress in her Maggi ads, just as any ordinary model would do.)

But now take a look at this ad, and you’ll see a difference

Aishwarya Rai L’Oreal ad


Rai is clearly endorsing L’Oreal shampoo. She is unambiguously expressing her personal approval for it (through words, as well as actions). So if the content of the ad were to be false or misleading, she must justifiably be held liable.

That is how the US Federal Trade Commission looks at the issue in its quest to protect the consumer’s interests. And it seems fair.

But the question is, will our Indian authorities look at it in the same sensible light?

We’ll just have to wait and see.

Meanwhile, since we’re on the subject of misleading advertising, let’s not forget that for unsubstantiated promises the worst culprit is political advertising – which seems to get away with the most blatant transgressions.

Take a look, for example, at these two ads below, listen carefully to the specific claims they make, line by line, and then decide – hand on your heart – if they are indeed true, factual and substantiate-able.

Bharatiya Janata Party ad


Congress ad


So, what do you think: true, factual and substantiate-able?