Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Endorsements ok for private companies, not for government and news organizations

Alex Westerh

Celebrity endorsements of a product or service is nothing new within the advertising industry, but the rise of Twitter and other online forums has blurred the lines between ethical decision making. The corporate world has long leaned on celebrity endorsements in print or broadcast, and it was always clear that they were paid for their nod of approval. Now, advertising companies such as Ad.ly are helping to connect celebrities with corporate partners through Twitter shout outs. More than $50 billion a year is spent on endorsements, according to Ad.ly CEO Arnie Gullov-Singh in the Poynter article, and each year more of that money is being budgeted for online use.
Courtesy of rackcdn.com
This is a good change for the public relations and advertising departments because they are able to reach their target audiences in a more direct manner than in the past. In addition, sponsored tweets can have the appearance of authenticity, which is much different than in traditional endorsements. These are becoming more popular every day, and in fact, scrolling through my Twitter feed right now I stumbled across one from Snoop (Dogg) Lion.
Courtesy of Twitter.com. Posted approximately 2 p.m. on Tuesday October 8, 2013.

Companies must also be very careful when doing this. If consumers catch on to this, it can cause resentment toward the company because it can appear as if they are trying to undermine their consumer base.

In stark contrast to the advertising world, I believe that government and news agencies should keep as far away from sponsored material as possible. Governments have an obligation to serve their people and have no business promoting the laws the current administration is trying to drum up public support for. It should work the other way around.

In 2004, Armstrong Williams, who is a TV pundit, was paid $240,000 of TAX PAYER money to endorse the No Child Left Behind Act. This is something that is not ethical, quasi-legal and completely unacceptable. If the FTC mandates independent bloggers must indicate endorsements, shouldn't the US government be forced to do the same thing? The government should operate through public support; it has no business dealing with celebrity endorsements.

News agencies have a different problem to worry about when dealing with endorsements. Their credibility is at stake. Studies have shown that confidence with the media is at an all-time low, which should alarm journalists. There is no wiggle room to experiment with paid advertising through a news organization's social media presence. However, Ad.ly will be partnering with outlets as prominent as Time Magazine to undertake this experiment. My guess? This won’t work out well for Time Magazine.

When a news organization is desperate enough to accept money for posting a specific post, readers see that and roll their eyes. Aren't news organizations supposed to serve as watchdogs and have the public interest at mind? How does that tweet about a new pair of Nike shoes help achieve those goals? When a news organization folds and decides to take on endorsement tweets of a product, they should always be marked as advertising material. But doesn't that defeat the purpose?

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