Some of Australia’s biggest celebrities and musicians are being accused of deceptive practises after it was uncovered they’d been paid to tweet to their followers about a holiday destination.
Yes, although it’s been 13 years since the cash for comment scandal erupted embroiling some of Australia’s biggest radio personalities, that hasn’t stopped advertisers from looking for ways to trick you into listening or reading an advertisement dressed up as legitimate comment.
The personalities caught up in the 1999 scandal, such as John Laws and Alan Jones, were caught out by Media Watch journalists who had uncovered that the personalities had been making favourable on air comments about companies such as QANTAS, Optus, and the banks, without disclosing they had been paid for the comments.
The personalities tried to argue unsuccessfully at the time that they were merely entertainers, and not journalists, and therefore had no duty of disclosure or of journalistic integrity.
Of course, the courts disagreed with the men and imposed huge fines, $360,000 in the case of John Laws, with a strong warning to anyone in the future about disclosing financial connections.
But the world has changed dramatically since 1999. For one, we now have the internet, and the lines between journalist and reader have become significantly blurred, just as the waters between editorial and advertising into advertorial have become almost impossible to navigate.
That doesn’t mean that advertisers are any less inclined to try and trick unsuspecting members of the public into believing endorsements thought, just as any number of celebrities are willing to sell out their integrity for a quick pay day.
But the new kind of celebrity endorsement is almost unrecognisable compared to those in the past, and these days more closely resembles the kind of cash for comment we’d seen in the past thanks to social media.
The idea of being able to communicate with some of the biggest stars in the world and Australia on a regular basis is both novel and relatively new, ushered in almost overnight thanks to social media operators such as Twitter and Facebook.
Enter Kangaroo Island, which according to News Limited has become an overnight sensation on Twitter thanks to a few pay outs to some of Australia’s high profile celebrities and musicians such as Shannon Noll.
Located about 100km southwest of Adelaide, Kangaroo Island is known for its nature, and rugged landscapes, and is currently at the centre of a multi-million dollar advertising campaign.
Of course it wasn’t the actual tweets that have caused all the commotion, no the Twitterverse really lit up after Media Watch yet again led the charge after they outed the tweets as nothing but paid advertisements disguised as legitimate commentary by these celebrities.
Media Watch uncovered the plot after they got a hold of an email circulated from a publicist attached to the campaign, which read “I have been contacted by South Australian Tourism and they are looking for high profile celebrities with a high twitter following to tweet about Kangaroo Island.”
“They will pay $750 plus GST for one tweet. They don’t want to tweet to appear endorsed, rather an organic mention, injecting your own personality into the tweet.”
Media Watch did some digging to uncover which celebrities had agreed to the scheme and came up with some pretty high profile examples.
“All this moving and dancing training! I think I need a break! I heard Kangaroo Island is awesome. Thoughts anyone?” tweeted Shannon Noll.
“Bring on Kangaroo Island. Saw the TV ad last night and makes me wish I was visiting sooner rather than later,” added celebrity chef Matt Moran.
But the SA Tourism Commission marketing and communications director David O’Loughlin is unapologetic, calling the paid tweets a “legitimate marketing tool”.
“This is a typical product placement strategy that is emerging throughout the online world and we are talking full advantage of it as a viable media channel,” he added.
The advertising agency in charge of the campaign also defended the strategy saying there was “a blurring line in social media”.
“These celebrities, a lot of them are a commercial brand in their own right, it’s not like we were recruiting everyday people to endorse Kangaroo Island,” a spokesperson said.
But lawyer Stephen von Muenster, principal at von Muenster Solicitors & Attorneys, told advertising bible Mumbrella that the tweets may have been against the law.
“In certain circumstances, blogs including microblogs such as tweets that purport to be a genuine unsolicited celebrity testimonial when they are not may be a breach of Section 18 of the Australian Consumer Law, which prohibits misleading and deceptive conduct,” he said.
“Other problem areas include for example, having a celebrity claim that they have been to a place that they have never been,” Von Muenster continued.
“To ensure testimonials are lawful, testimonials should be truthful, accurate and disclose in an appropriate way important affiliations with a brand.”
Something to keep in mind next time a celebrity or musician tells you something is worthwhile checking out.