Celebrity endorsements, used correctly, were once a potent weapon for brands in China, and a great payday for the stars that were featured.
But SCMP reports that there is now a risk for celebrities who endorse bad brands. Some consumers are experiencing side effects from harmful products that celebrities endorse without trying.
Now, “The owners of the products or service providers, advertising agencies, designers, production teams, factories, sales companies and various media that host the misleading ads will all share responsibility,” said Huang Jianhua, an official at the State Administration of Industry and Commerce, via China National Radio.
This is the first major revision to the twenty-year-old Law on Protection of the Rights and Interests of Consumers. The change indicates that legal liability will extend to celebrities appearing in misleading commercials as well as media that broadcast them.
False advertisement has been a problem in Asia for years. In 2006, actress Carina Lau Kar-ling endorsed the luxury Japanese skincare brand SK-II. In her commercial, she said that after using the product for 28 days, lines and wrinkles would be reduced by 47 percent. After the campaign, it was discovered that the cream contained chromium, neodymium and other harmful chemical substances. Lau never issued an apology; she just walked away from the brand.
“In recent years, Jackie Chan dropped his endorsement of a chemical-free shampoo that turned out to contain potentially cancer-causing ingredients, mainland comedian Guo Degang unwittingly endorsed illegally produced slimming tea and mainland actor Tang Guoqiang promoted a hospital on 20 Chinese TV stations that falsely claimed it could cure infertility,” said SCMP.
Now celebrities involved in product scandals will not be able to simply play coy. “Customers could demand indemnity from the product provider or the celebrity who endorses the product or service. It depends on the customers themselves. They can also sue both parties,” said Shi Hong, a lawmaker at the National People’s Congress.
The law will also allow for greater compensation to be awarded to injured parties. Starting in March this year, they can claim up to three times the original product price in damages, SCMP said. The previous limit was two times the original price. “Compared to other countries, I think this is still not enough. But we have to take into consideration that it’s a good way to protect companies [from bankruptcy],” said Li Jiandong, a lawyer at Yingke Law Firm in Shenzhen.
Celebrities, too, are looking for ways to protect themselves from the law. As public figures, celebrities should act responsibly, no doubt on this,” said Shi Lanxuan, a lawyer from Hunan. “But I think the law needs to clarify under what circumstances a celebrity should take responsibility; for example, what if he or she was tricked by the manufacture?”