Should Performers reveal Endorsement details in Real Time?

Do you trust your favorite celebrities to give you the unvarnished truth about popular consumer products and services — in real time — in any media? The Federal Trade Commission  believes celebrities need to make it clearer when they’re being paid for promotional deals online.

Some things would seem okay in the current media world. On television, we can clearly see when celebrities are touting products in the familiar format of 30-second commercials. Every viewer knows what a commercial with a movie or TV actor looks like.

But with social media, specifically Twitter, there can be confusion. Twitter does have specific rules concerning certain “promotions” paid to entertainers for their tweets – and those tweets must be clearly labeled as such.

But unfortunately, that doesn’t apply to all tweets, nor to other social media platforms. Kaley Cuoco, star of CBS’ “The Big Bang Theory,” recently danced into dangerous waters when she touted Dish Network in a tweet. She seemed to forget that CBS has some significant ongoing legal actions against Dish.

The Federal Trade Commission may now demand promotional relationships clarified in digital messaging. The fear is that unsuspecting consumers will be sucked into this sphere of influence — something that isn’t obvious on first glance.

For the last decade or so, branded TV entertainment has faced similar criticism. Some identification of these promotions does take place in a show’s end credits, such as when Pepsi-Cola received in-show signage in a recent episode of NBC’s “Smash.”
But some believe this kind of ID comes too late in the show, believing it should occur closer in time to the actual media execution.

I can hear many marketers groaning that this will diminish the “organic” messaging impact of their media deals. In part, I agree. But some viewers may be out of the loop — and that’s a problem.

Research studies have shown that consumers may not always like branded entertainment — or entertainment endorsements, in general. The positive? Research has also shown that these placements are never enough for viewers to change the channel.

According to a report in The Wrap, the FTC wants social media disclosures to be part of the endorsement message itself, not a separate tweet or a link to a website. The FTC said it hasn’t reviewed any celebrity endorsement issues for any media platform in more than 12 years.

The fractionalized media world is already a tougher place to eke out a key part of a consumers marketer’s media plan. Now it looks to get much harder.

A media critique by Wayne Friedman
Wayne Friedman is West Coast Editor of MediaPost.

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