People may have got away with it in the pre social media era, but today the public declarations you make are as good as carved in stone. Netizens ensure that you stay true to your word once you put it out there in the public sphere. And so, when a public figure reneges on a promise, he is instantly called out on it.
Whether big ticket celebrities endorse a tobacco brand or not is — as Ajay Devgan says — a personal choice. We agree with that. If selling tobacco and gutka is legally allowed by the government, there can be nothing illegal or unethical about endorsing the same products. If the government collects taxes from these products, individuals have the right to earn their living off these too. After all, in many cases, stars end up making more money from endorsements than from their movies. Protests attacking stars who endorse tobacco brands — demanding they be divested of their National Awards — are misled, because how can a government take back a conferred honour for something that is legally allowed?
What gets celebrities into trouble is when they take a public stance and then fail to honour their commitment. You cannot claim a high moral ground declaring you would never endorse a tobacco or gutka brand, and then nonchalantly do exactly that. And so, of the three megastars who are part of the surrogate tobacco advertisement featuring cardamom –Shah Rukh Khan, Ajay Devgan and Akshay Kumar — it was Akshay alone who was left holding the wrong end of the stick. While SRK and Ajay have never made any sweeping public statements regarding what they will or will not do, Akshay has not been quite so diplomatic. And that is why Akshay alone of all three finds himself in the middle of this maelstrom.
Netizens gleefully pulled out video clips of a press conference where Akshay declared that though he had innumerable offers of ‘unimaginable amounts’ to advertise for tobacco brands, he would never do so because he upheld ‘Swastha Bharat”!
While Twitterati had a field day asking Akshay ‘
kya hua tera vaada’, a battered Akshay under Twitter attack, issued a midnight apology. However, here again he fell victim to his own words. “… I have not and will not endorse tobacco…,” tweeted a suitably chastened Akshay, still trying to regain his high ground. Not to be hoodwinked, netizens instantly pulled out an old advertisement of Akshay endorsing a cigarette brand! This of course triggered a meme fest on Twitter, with users calling out the actor on not being true to his own words. “Since it is an honest declaration, I’d wish there was honesty in the statement Akki sir,” complained a Twitter user. People also brought up the fact that though Akshay has declared himself against protein shakes, that has not stopped him from advertising for these.
Commenting on the apology, Twitter user Dr Swapniel tweeted, “Say what you want to say, but till those ads keep running, your reputation will keep receiving heavy blows.”
As part of the apology, Akshay wrote, “I have decided to contribute the entire endorsement fee towards a worthy cause.” Twitter users instantly questioned his intention, regretting the fact that he had not returned the money and stopped the advertisement from being aired. Said a Twitter user Uma Kant, “Who are you fooling Khiladi Kumar? You have earned crores promoting a gutka brand. Now who knows whether or not you donate it to a good cause!” Ankit Narayan Singh tweets, “Ok. Please do share the copy of agreement amount for this endorsement and then the receipt for social cause.”
Twitterati questioned Akshay’s decision to not return the money and to allow the advertisements to continue airing till “the legal duration of the contract.” Kumar Dokania pointedly asks, “Why don’t you cancel the contract and ask the brand to stop airing the ads…” However, to be fair, it may not be so simple for Akshay to pull out of the contract. Apart from legal implications there is the question of SRK and Ajay Devgn, who are also a part of the same commercial.
Readers may recall that last year on his birthday Amitabh Bachchan had terminated his contract with a tobacco company within a few days of a commercial of him endorsing a pan masala was aired. He returned the amount and made a public declaration that he was no longer their brand ambassador. But then Big B was the only star in that commercial. There are legal and ethical implications involved.
Twitter user Kunal Jain hits the nail on the head when he emotionally says, “Show biz is to earn money. Endorsements go a long way. Why lose it when you have worked so hard building a career from scratch! Then I saw the other video of yours saying you won’t endorse such products. Felt a little bad.”
And that is the crux of the problem. Not that Akshay Kumar has advertised for a tobacco brand, but that he had forcefully promised he would never do so. The fact that in his apology he says, “I have not and will not endorse tobacco” – and yet – he has done so in the past. All this doesn’t sit well with his fans who are making it clear that they will not tolerate being led for a ride. It is possible that a celebrity may have a different personal stance from the brand he endorses, but the problem crops up only when he has made his personal stance public. After all, those who endorse a product, do not always use it personally.
It is crystal clear that more than the actual product or ad, the issue has become one of a respected public figure going back on his word several times and losing the faith of his fans. You cannot promise one thing and do another – all public figures need to be careful of the promises they make in public!