Topic 4: Ethical Concerns about the Relationships between Businesses & Celebrities. Kim Kardashain made me do it…

The UK is the 8th most connected country in the World in terms of Internet Connectivity according to the UN, with 80% of households having an Internet connection (Kelion, 2013). For companies harnessing the power of Digital Marketing this can be a complete goldmine, but for the Consumer and The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) (Langford, 2014).

Celebrity endorsements are nothing new, be it through traditional advertising on the television and in magazines, or product placement in Films and Music Videos. However, the difference is now that with the continual rise of Social Media and the continual creation of further platforms for endorsement it is no longer quite so easy for the consumer to determine whether they are being sold to or receiving a genuine recommendation.

This YouTube video from TFN shows just how lucrative a tweet endorsing a brand can be for Celebrities, and just quite how many well-known names are doing it.

In an article for LinkedIn Matthew Geiger discusses when a Celebrity endorsement crosses the line from a genuine recommendation to an ethically challenging situation. The biggest ethical concern he raises is the endorsement by Celebrities of Diets and Healthcare products. For many consumers an endorsement by a Celebrity has a greater influence than the advice of Medics or Industry Professionals (Geiger, 2014). In terms of Diet, exercise programmes and the use of meal replacements products and ‘shakes’ this patently has greater ethical repercussions than ‘Louise from Made in Chelsea trying to sell us the fact she has a Volvo’ as one of my friends put it!

The infographic above was created using data featured in an article on featuring a study on what impact these ‘endorsed tweets’ have on the consumer (Langford, 2014). Interestingly, the data collected here suggests that the public is much more aware of what Celebrities doing in terms of ‘cash for endorsements’ than much of the literature I read suggested.

Topic 4 Graphic

Whilst this doesn’t remove the ethical issues of promoting a product which you don’t use or simply because you’ve been paid by a Brand to tweet about them, it does at least suggest that we aren’t quite as simple as the advertising industry would hope.

The ASA is placed in a complex and continually changing situation, Celebrities and Brands are now required to make clear when a tweet or post is sponsored, and failure to do so results in both the Brand and Celebrity being liable. But while Celebrities such as Kim Kardashian earning a reported $20,000 a tweet, Celebrity endorsements are unlikely to disappear anytime soon. Now if only I could be paid that much per tweet!


Geiger, M. 6th July 2014. “When Celebrity Endorsements aren’t Ethical”, LinkedIn Pulse. Accessed: 22/3/2015

Kelion, L. 7th October 2013. “UK jumps up internet scoreboard as Digital Divide grows”. BBC News. Accessed: 22/3/2015

Langford, L. 17th January 2014. “Celebrity Endorsements on Social Media”, Brand Republic. Accessed: 22/3/2015


10 thoughts on “Topic 4: Ethical Concerns about the Relationships between Businesses & Celebrities. Kim Kardashain made me do it…

  1. Hi Liv
    Great blog post, I thought the way you focused on the ethical issues surrounding a specific type of endorsement was an interesting idea. You state in your blog that the “public is much more aware of what celebrities do in terms of ‘cash for endorsements’”. In regards to this comment, do you think that consumer protection agencies should have a two-fold strategy focusing on consumer education as well as regulating companies and brand ambassadors? This article (1) gives advice to parents on teaching their kids about endorsements. I can’t help but feel that if it’s such a difficult area to monitor then perhaps we should make sure consumers are more aware. An article published by the OECD (2) explains how Nordic countries and Estonia include the theme of “media and technology” in the school curriculum. The article also states that education needs to focus on teaching children how online markets function. It also discusses the need to educate parents about their responsibilities online, along with techniques that are frequently used online to market products, in order to increase their awareness.
    As a side not, should we also consider that there may be a case for endorsers breaking the law though ignorance rather than malice and thus education should be aimed at both the person endorsing and the consumer?


    • Leigh,

      Thank you for your comment. I found both the links you supplied very interesting and definitely agree that education of the consumer is just as important as tracking down those who have broken the law in this way. I think it’s very interesting that Nordic countries and Estonia provide lessons to their students on how online markets work, I can only really see this as a benefit to the students in terms of entering the wider world post education. In terms of the authorities monitoring these sorts of endorsements I think that it’s definitely vital to go for a two sided approach, the more informed the general public are about the practice the more able they are to view a tweet or endorsement and make an informed decision on the information that they are being presented with. It is also worth considering that in a lot of cases the celebrity themselves is not the only one with access to the twitter etc account, there is often a whole team of PA’s, publicists etc and so education of what is deemed acceptable and not is doubly important as I think ignorance of the law is currently a major cause of confusion.



  2. Hi Olivia,

    Your post has brought up an ethical issue raised by business use of social media that I hadn’t even considered. While I focused on who should be accountable for comments posted on news sites, and therefore the risks of causing offence, you have demonstrated that there are also ethical issues in the way brands go about exploiting social media for their own promotion.

    It’s a clever trick they play. Even though the infographic you provided displays that 36% of social media users reportedly ‘always’ know when a celebrity is committing ‘cash for endorsements’, this still leaves a majority who fall for it, and I bet even some of that 36% still falls for them sometimes without even realising.

    I suppose, though, it is something very difficult to control. Brands will use any platform that attracts a lot of viewers to advertise their product. If they’re allowed to use films, TV programs and websites, then they are inevitably going to use the Twitter accounts attracting millions of followers.

    No one can really control what products a celebrity, or Twitter user, can or can’t mention in their tweets. The idea in the video of trying to make celebs write “ad” before a ‘cash for endorsement’ tweet is simply not feasible, as how does one know when they’re being paid and when they’re not?


    • May,

      Thank you for your comment.

      I think a lot of the time it can be quite obvious that a Celebrity is being paid to endorse a product, a sudden tweet about how amazing some noodles for example are in the middle of their usual tweets usually stands out. I think it can often be easier to determine when they are endorsing something on Instagram than Twitter. By being able to see a picture it definitely becomes more obvious that they’re clearly marketing something. However, when it comes to dining out at restaurants, staying at hotels, wearing clothes etc, it becomes much harder to determine whether there was an financial incentive in relation to that decision. Although the use of ‘ad’ at the end of a tweet or post isn’t 100% feasible as you said, if it is done often it does still offer some protection to those viewing it. Since becoming aware of it I definitely think I am more sceptical when it comes to the intentions of the tweets posted by celebrities that I follow on Twitter.



  3. Hi Olivia,

    I really enjoyed reading your blog this week – I can’t say I was oblivious to celebrities endorsing products and services on social media, but I was oblivious to how they were getting paid!

    I agree with you that celebrity endorsement is not a new phenomenon – I feel like it’s pretty rare not to see ‘Beats Pill’ speakers in music videos any more.

    I wondered what your opinion was on celebrities promoting their own products, rather than endorsing others? Obviously the Kardashians are a prime example of this, and are pretty relentless on Twitter. However, if essentially they’re not pretending to be consumers, and no one is paying them to do it, is it unethical?


    • Sarah,

      Thank you for your comment.

      I think the Kardashians are an interesting example. They are indeed pretty relentless on Twitter, the Daily Mail could actually be considered a shrine to them and you just can’t escape them on E! However, when a Celebrity endorses their own brand I personally think the situation is quite different. They’re hardly going to publicly tweet how awful their clothing is and that you shouldn’t buy it, the attention that they give to it will invariably all be positive. As you said they aren’t pretending to be customers and they don’t get paid per tweet (as far as we know, I would assume many of their product lines are developed etc by outside companies and they simply put their name on it) so they may not be getting paid directly, but the better the product sells, the more money they stand to make so the financial incentive still remains. It’s definitely a tricky one ethically, but I think in a situation such as this the consumer would be able to realise that they’re promoting their own brand so of course they’re going to think that it’s great!



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