Celebrities' gimmicky endorsements attract backlash

By Long Nguyen   May 25, 2021 | 08:08 pm PT
Celebrities earn big bucks for endorsing products, often with unproven or exaggerated claims, and it is gradually coming home to roost.

Last month veteran comedian Van Dung live-streamed a video on her Facebook page claiming she had taken a medicine to shrink a uterine fibroid.

To prove she had a fibroid before taking the tablets, she even showed her hospital health records.

"I cannot hold back my tears because the uterine fibroid is now as small as a sesame after I took the tablet."

But later the hospital said the health record she showed in the video was fake, and Dung faced a wave of anger from her fans and a severe backlash.

"I cannot believe a celebrity can tell lies to her fans just to endorse a product whose effectiveness has not been proved," a netizen said on Facebook.

The online world has seen an uproar in the last few months against stars who have endorsed various products with fake or exaggerated stories.

An actor endorses a tablet helping him lose weight. Photo from the actors Facebook.

An actor endorses a tablet helping him lose weight. Photo from the actor's Facebook.

Most promoted cosmetic products and functional foods, which can have a direct impact on people’s health.

Often, to convince their fans, they would claim to have had health problems before using such products.

Actor Quyen Linh said another tablet had cured his acid reflux, singer Dan Truong claimed a functional food burned the fat in his body and helped him maintain a youthful appearance, actress Phuong Oanh said she had smelly armpits before using a certain deodorant.

These videos, posted on platforms like Facebook, YouTube and TikTok, featured photos of artists using the products and their claims, encouraging people to trust and use them.

Many of these claims were found to be exaggerated or plain wrong, and people like Linh and actress Nam Thu had to apologize to their fans.

"From TikTok to Facebook, artists talk about tablets that help them lose weight and creams that make their skin smoother within days. Do they really use those things?" a Hanoi housewife asked.

Celebrity endorsement has recently expanded to the crypto sphere: On May 11 a host of celebrities like Nam Thu, Ngoc Trinh, Kieu Minh Tuan, and Kha Nhu posted photos on their Facebook pages saying they had been investing in a cryptocurrency which had been warned for bribery.

All the posts were removed the following morning after a backlash.

According to Trinh Kim Chi, actress and vice president of the Ho Chi Minh City Theater Association, it is alarming that artists endorse products with wrong claims.

"They should check the effectiveness of these products carefully before endorsing them."

Money money money

With more than 68 million Internet users, Vietnam has become a hotbed of social media influencer marketing.

Since celebrities often have hundreds of thousands to millions of followers on their social media pages, their posts and videos easily go viral.

According to Vero Asean, an influencer marketing and PR agency serving clients in Southeast Asia, 78 percent of Vietnamese brands spent money on influencer marketing in 2020 and 39 percent signed up celebrities.

Quynh Huong, head of marketing for a jewelry brand, said a celeb could earn VND70 million ($3,036) for a single post on Facebook, while an endorsement video could make help them make up to VND200 million ($8,676).

Thanks to their viral posts, many stars make billions dong from online endorsements.

Another reason celebrity endorsements are flourishing is the lack of coordination between various regulatory agencies.

Pham Cao Thai, chief inspector at the Ministry of Culture, Sports, and Tourism, said the endorsement of commercial products by celebrities is regulated by the ministry, but in the case of medicines and functional foods, the Vietnam Food Administration or the Drug Administration is in charge of testing their efficacy and functions, not the ministry.

Thanh Nien newspaper quoted an official from the Ministry of Culture, Sports, and Tourism as saying, "We need coordination among ministries and other agencies because advertising on Facebook, YouTube and online platforms is difficult to manage."

This has led to many endorsements by celebrities involving wrong or exaggerated claims, which directly affect their fans and their own reputation.

Many people buy cosmetic products and functional foods endorsed by their idols only to realize they have little effectiveness.

Nguyen Anh Tuyet, an office worker in Hanoi, said: "My husband spent millions on the functional food that actor Chi Trung mentioned as he said it helped stabilize his blood sugar levels. But it did not work... Such a waste of money."

In many Facebook groups, people warn others about cosmetic products endorsed by celebrities saying many have been next to useless for their health and skin.

In the long run, consumers will lose their faith in influencers, Do Tuan Hai, CEO of The A-List, a network connecting influencers and brands, warned.

Once there is a backlash, most celebrities quietly remove their posts though some have apologized.

Linh told the media: "I failed to exercise control when I said the product is 70 times better than others. This is a lesson for me after 20 years in showbiz. I apologize."

In 2017 actress Oc Thanh Van apologized and even refunded money to people who had bought cosmetic products she had endorsed after they were investigated for unknown origin.

Last week the HCMC Propaganda Department told local artist associations to manage artists endorsing products on the internet.

It expressed concern that many artists endorse functional foods, cosmetics and medicines that could be harmful to people’s health.

It said celebrities should be more responsible when endorsing commercial products.

Concurring with this, actress Trinh Kim Chi said she would organize a meeting with her colleagues to talk about their online endorsements in future.

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