Amitabh Bachchan Criticized for Horlicks Endorsement
In 2014, Amitabh Bachchan, the King of Bollywood, spoke at an interactive session on celebrity endorsements at IIM, Ahmedabad, where he urged fellow celebrities to only endorse those brands which they felt promoted healthy, safe messages.
During that session, Bachchan reportedly entertained the audience with a cute, maybe even true, anecdote about a little girl approaching him about his eight-year-association with Pepsi. The little girl asked him why he endorsed something as unhealthy as Pepsi when her teacher had said it was basically “poison,” Bachchan told his audience. After this, Bachchan stopped working with Pepsi.
“I look into it… I meet the client and ask them about it,” Bachchan reportedly told the audience. “I don’t endorse tobacco or alcohol because I don’t have them… then why should I endorse them?”
This logic is certainly very admirable. And I would love to believe that Amitabh Bachchan wakes up in the morning, slips on his Lux Venus banyan, diligently oils his scalp with Navratna Oil, and munches on Everest Chole Masala while strolling around his home, which must be made from Binani Cement.
But Bachchan’s latest endorsement suggests he’s not thinking through his endorsement deals with that kind of careful consideration. Last week, as The Wire reports, the actor announced, in a series of tweets, his partnership with children’s drinks brand Horlicks on their campaign to “fight malnutrition.” In the tweets, Bachchan tagged Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the Union Minister for Women and Child Development, as well as the government program for malnutrition, Poshan Abhiyaan.
At face value, such an endorsement does seem to promote a positive message. However, several public health experts were quick to respond to Bachchan, pointing out that Horlicks isn’t exactly nutritious.
A national think tank on nutrition, Nutrition Advocacy in Public Interest, wrote an open letter to Bachchan on Tuesday urging him to end his association with Horlicks. “100 gram of a popularly advertised pack of Horlicks Delight, contains 78 gram of carbohydrates of which 32 grams is sucrose sugar,” they wrote. “This is harmful for children as it may contribute to childhood obesity and non communicable disease in later life.”
“We fear that this campaign will influence families and children from these families to buy Horlicks assuming it is a good nutritious product as you are behind it,” the letter continued. “Horlicks is expensive, may displace real family foods.”
Low-income families could be fooled into spending money on a drink which has both high sugar levels and a high price tag, NAPI argued. Bachchan’s association with Horlicks would be unlikely to achieve the campaign goal of ending malnutrition, they said, when the result might be families replacing actually nutritious foods with a sugary drink.
Parents are a group particularly vulnerable to endorsements. Brands often prey on parental fears of not bringing up children in the most healthy way possible. And Bachchan’s star power makes products fly off the shelves; that’s why brands pay his undoubtedly steep asking rates to appear in their advertisements. Horlicks might not be poisonous, but it is dangerous when unhealthy products position themselves as nutritious and necessary for child development, using a celebrity endorsement to bolster credibility.
The wisest move for Bachchan, at this point, would be to end his association with Horlicks and instead tweet accurate information surrounding child development and nutrition. Being too prideful to go back on his announcement would be to the detriment of Indian families and children. I suggest, once he’s renounced his endorsement, he then use the extra time to vlog on a daily basis, so we can watch him lounge around in a banyan and oil his hair. Wouldn’t that be far better for the world than empty calories?