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Print Edition> Forum
UPDATED: November 8, 2010 NO. 45 NOVEMBER 11, 2010
Are Celebrities Criminally Responsible For Deceptive Advertising?


The State Administration for Industry and Commerce recently said it has suggested the addition of an article in the Advertising Law to make celebrities who represent fake products in deceptive advertising criminally responsible for their actions if it is confirmed as a crime. Up to now, those who have endorsed products have only been required to bear administrative and civil responsibilities.

The move has again triggered heated debate on the role of celebrity endorsers in deceptive advertising.

Supporters of the proposed new stipulation say, because celebrities enjoy high esteem, they appear more persuasive than ordinary people when they speak highly of certain commodities. Advertising involving celebrities is undoubtedly more popular than without them. If a celebrity speaks for a fake commodity, he or she has to bear liability for the damages it has done to consumers.

Opponents say celebrities are also ordinary human beings, so it's impossible for them to be aware of all aspects of new products. They do not have the means to examine the quality of certain products. Therefore, celebrities should not be held accountable for the products they speak for. If consumers buy the product only because a celebrity has endorsed it, they are not wise. Ensuring product quality is the responsibility of producers and sales agents and also quality watchdogs, but has nothing to do with advertising spokespersons.

Late justice

Wu Longgui (Chongqing Times): The current Advertising Law only includes three parties as the major bodies that need to take responsibility for deceptive advertising—namely the advertisement owner, advertising agency and advertisement carrier—but does not cover the fourth, that is, the spokesperson for or endorser of an advertisement. The law was formulated in the early 1990s, and it was then uncommon for celebrities to be advertising spokespersons. But, with the development of the advertising industry, this loophole in the legal system has become increasingly apparent.

False advertising results from the absence of relevant laws and regulations, so there is an urgency to legislate effectively to regulate this industry. To cover advertising spokespersons and other participants as advertisement subjects and demand they undertake attached accountability is by no means an invention, but trying to abide by the basic legal principle of "reciprocity of power and responsibility."

In daily life, everyone is supposed to be responsible for his or her words and actions, even if only small speeches and acts. Celebrities are given huge amounts of money for several minutes or even several seconds of work, but they are able to walk away without the risk of taking any accountability. Moreover, because of their huge social influence, once they appear in false advertising, a vast number of people will be endangered.

The era for celebrities being able to make staggering profits without any risks must be brought to an end. It's not only needed to protect consumers' rights and interests, but it's also an opportunity to save some celebrities' personal images from being damaged. Everyone is a victim in a society which features lies and frauds.

Zhu Sibei (gb.cri.cn): In recent years, cases of celebrities endorsing fake products have occurred frequently. Behind these scandals are problems with quality inspection systems and laws. Despite the high degree of the whole of society's concern about these cases, after being sued for involvement in deceptive advertising, celebrities have always been able to evade responsibility and their agents even believe the public should hold tolerant attitudes toward them. The root cause of irresponsible behavior by these celebrities is the light punishment such behavior may incur.

For this reason, if celebrities who endorse fake products are held accountable, it will effectively restrict these people's commercial behavior. There are already examples of celebrities being held accountable because of involvement in deceptive advertising. In the United States, celebrities who speak for a commodity must be a user and direct beneficiary of this product, or he or she will be severely punished. In France, if celebrities are involved in deceptive advertising, they will be thrown into jail.

To some extent, celebrities are abusing the public's credibility about them. In this sense, to bring irresponsible movie stars under legal control is not only punishment directed at the celebrities, but also an attempt to restore a little credibility if they remain in the public eye.

Jiang Debin (www.tianjinwe.com): Due to loopholes in the legal system for quite a long time, there is no effective supervision over celebrities acting as commodity endorsers. They are paid for acting in the advertisement and are never subject to any legal restraints. As a result, whether they are responsible or not depends on their personal moral standards. Lured by enormous payments, a number of celebrities and their agents never think about the quality of the commodities they will endorse before signing contracts. The attractive payments remove the little remaining moral sense from their hearts.

Consumers trust their beloved celebrities and, naturally, they choose to believe in commodities these celebrities endorse. If the celebrities engage in false advertising, their behavior is equal to collaborating with advertisers, producers and sales agencies for the purpose of cheating consumers for money. More importantly, false advertising tends to exaggerate the function of certain commodities while covering up possible side effects. As a result, consumers in less serious cases lose money and in more serious cases are damaged psychologically. Cracking down on false advertising will safeguard consumers' rights and interests and also help to regulate the messy advertisement market.

To hold irresponsible celebrities to legal account will deter them so they will carefully examine commodity quality and sign their names on contracts carefully. Nowadays, to work for advertising has become a major source of income for celebrities. If there is any mistake, these people might risk losing money and even be put behind bars. By then, it's too late for regrets. Therefore, an effectively restrictive law on these celebrities is not only a good thing for consumers, but also for them.

Cong Xiaobo (www.cnhubei.com): Justice and fairness is the basis of the operation of society. If an ordinary citizen sells fake commodities, he or she will be punished by the law. Similarly, if celebrities help a company to sell fake products without making any efforts to check whether the products are really as good as the companies describe, they are actually selling fake products, too. Those who only focus on money and refuse to take social responsibility are damaging social justice and fairness. The legal vacuum will undoubtedly bring about social injustices.

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