The U.S. market has a long tradition of celebrity spokespeople who endorse products they basically have nothing to do with. A classic example was in 1984, when soap opera actor Chris Robinson held a bottle of Vicks Formula 44 cough syrup and reassured America with the pledge: “I’m not a doctor, but I play one on TV."
Since then, consumers have somehow accepted that a swimmer could discern the best cell-phone carrier (Michael Phelps for AT&T); a race car driver was in a position to endorse a web-hosting service (Danica Patrick for GoDaddy); and—most preposterous of all—that the Kardashian sisters shop at Sears.
The bizarre disconnect between star and brand prospers unhindered in America, but resistance to this model is taking root in, of all places, China, where a new law aims to crack down on celebrity endorsements. As the South China Morning Post recently reported, China’s National People’s Congress has introduced a proposed “truth in advertising” law that fines celebrities who endorse products without personally trying them first.
The measure has apparently arisen out of the head-scratching that results from watching celebs pitch products they clearly have nothing to do with. “I’ve seen male celebrities endorse things like bras, lingerie and female body wash,” said one Wiebo commentator. “I even remember seeing one guy endorse sanitary pads!” That consumer was referring to Chinese star Jiro Wang, who indeed did pitch feminine napkins.
But it’s not just men endorsing intimate female products that is inviting ridicule.
In another case, well-known Chinese actor TaTang Guoqiang fronted a vocational school that grants bulldozer licenses. One commentator wondered: “Does that mean that from now on he has to be able to drive a bulldozer himself?” The actor also endorsed fertility clinics.
While many observers believe the law’s intent is good, some social media commentators suggest that the law needs some tweaking.
“The extent of how much they actually have to ‘try’ the products they sell is unclear,” one microblogger wrote. “If they’re selling food, for example, how much do they have to eat? What if it’s as little as those free samples that you can find in the supermarket?”
The official party line justifying the law is that consumers complain because they purchase products and services simply based on celebrity endorsements without first trying the product themselves.