August 19, 2023
The Department of Consumer Affairs, under the Ministry of Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution, has recently released additional guidelines for celebrities, influencers and virtual influencers in the field of health and wellness. These guidelines are an extension to the Guidelines for Prevention of Misleading Advertisements and Endorsements for Misleading Advertisements, 2022 released on 9th June 2022, and in lieu of the “Endorsement Know-hows!” guide booklet released on 20th January 2023.
The additional guidelines aim to deal with misleading advertisements, unsubstantiated claims and ensure transparency in health and wellness endorsements. They also broaden the definition of celebrities to include social media influencers who have a significant following or impact on consumers.
This article will explain what these new guidelines entail and prospect, why they are important, and how they affect celebrities, influencers and virtual influencers who endorse health and wellness products or services.
The additional guidelines cover the following aspects of health and wellness endorsements:
Certified medical practitioners and health and fitness experts holding certifications from recognized institutions must disclose that they are certified health/fitness experts and medical practitioners when sharing information, promoting products or services or making any health-related claims.
Celebrities, influencers and virtual influencers presenting themselves as health experts or medical practitioners must provide clear disclaimers, ensuring the audience understands that their endorsements should not be seen as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. This disclosure or disclaimer is necessary when talking or making claims on topics such as health advantages including those derived from food items & nutraceuticals, disease prevention, treatment or cure, medical conditions, recovery methodologies or immunity boosting, etc. This disclosure or disclaimer should be displayed during endorsements, promotions or at any instance of making health-related assertions.
Endorsers are encouraged to conduct a thorough review and ensure they are in a position to substantiate the claims made in the advertisement before endorsing a product or service. They shall conduct adequate due diligence before endorsing any product or service. They may, preferably, use or experience the product or service to the extent possible before endorsement. Furthermore, celebrities, influencers and virtual influencers must make certain that the information and advice they share are substantiated by facts and they must provide appropriate sources and citations where necessary. It’s essential that celebrities, influencers and virtual influencers refrain from making false, misleading or exaggerated claims that could potentially mislead their consumers. When promoting health and wellness products or services, celebrities, influencers and virtual influencers are obliged to include a disclaimer clarifying that their content should not be seen as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Simultaneously, endorsers must encourage their audience, during such promotions, to seek advice from health and wellness centres or healthcare professionals prior to making any significant alterations to their diet, exercise or medication routines.
While the guidelines outlined are comprehensive and applicable to a wide range of celebrities, influencers and virtual influencers, certain exemptions are in place. General wellness and health advice like ‘Drink Water and Stay Hydrated’, ‘Exercise Regularly and Be Physically Active’, ‘Reduce Sitting and Screen Time’, ‘Get Enough Good Sleep’, ‘Drink Turmeric Milk for faster recovery’, ‘Use sunscreen daily to protect from harmful UV rays’, ‘Oiling of hair for better growth’, etc not associated with specific products or services or not targeting specific health conditions or outcomes, are exempt from this regulations.
These guidelines are important for several reasons:
1. The guidelines aim to protect consumers from being misled by false or exaggerated claims made by endorsers like celebrities or virtual influencers who may not have the necessary qualifications or expertise to provide reliable health information.
2. They promote ethical and responsible advertising practices by ensuring that endorsers disclose their credentials, sources and disclaimers when endorsing health products or services.
3. They enhance consumer awareness and empowerment by encouraging them to seek professional medical advice before making any changes to their health routines based on endorsements.
4. These guidelines will likely increase and foster trust and credibility among consumers by ensuring that endorsers provide factual and evidence-based information when endorsing health products or services.
These guidelines affect celebrities, influencers and virtual influencers who endorse health products or services in various ways:
1. The Guidelines require celebrities, influencers and virtual influencers to be more transparent and accountable for their endorsements by disclosing their certifications, disclaimers and sources when making health-related claims.
2. The Guidelines compel them to conduct due diligence and research before endorsing any product or service by verifying its efficacy, safety and quality because any malpractices and violations will be penalised and punishable by the Consumer Protection Act 2019 and other relevant provisions of the law.
3. The Guidelines restrict them from making false, misleading or exaggerated claims that could harm consumers’ health or misguide them into buying ineffective or harmful products or services.
4. They challenge them to be more creative and authentic in their endorsements by providing factual and relevant information that adds value to consumers’ health and wellness.
For celebrities, influencers and virtual influencers, when disseminating health counsel or endorsing a product, an endorser can incorporate a statement such as “As a certified nutritionist, I advocate…” or “With my background in personal training, I deem this product beneficial for…” This candid and straightforward approach ensures that their disclaimer and disclosure are lucidly communicated to their audience without altering the overall inventive presentation of their content. It must be arduous to overlook static ads as well.
The additional guidelines for health and wellness endorsements are a welcome step by the Department of Consumer Affairs to regulate the growing and influential field of health and wellness advertising. Their objective is to safeguard consumers from being duped by fallacious or overstated assertions, foster virtuous and accountable advertising customs, magnify consumer cognizance and enablement, and cultivate confidence and dependability among consumers. They also affect celebrities, influencers and virtual influencers who endorse health products or services by requiring them to be more transparent, accountable, diligent, restricted and creative in their endorsements. These guidelines are expected to create a positive impact on the health and wellness industry and the consumers who rely on it.