Endorsement Ethics. Who’s Opinion is Real?

Are large corporations stealing the voice of the people and manipulating it for their own ends?

Ethics are the moral principles that govern a company’s behaviour or their conducting of an activity (Oxford Dictionaries, 2016).

Pre-social media there was a clear divide between producer and consumer.

Then came social media and everything changed!

(Forbes, 2013)

Suddenly we have prosumers (Newsroom, 2015) Individuals who both consume and produce web content, in the forms of blogs, reviews, comments and posts. Sharing their opinions across their network of friends and followers.

It is inherently human to want to know what others are doing in order to organise our own behaviour. In psychology it is known as social proof. It allows us to make efficient decisions.

Corporations are well aware of this propensity to want to follow the crowd. Thus, it is not surprising that after seeing the huge influence bloggers have, that they would want to utilize this impact. Electronic word of mouth has been found to convey the reputation of products, brands, and complementary goods (Amblee & Bui, 2011).

But how much can we trust these online opinions?

Wal-Mart endured backlash when it was revealed they endorsed the blog ‘Wal-Marting Across America’ without being transparent about their involvement. This “average couple” were actually paid to take an RV tour of the U.S. while staying in Wal-Mart parking lots and posting positive blogs (Gogoi, 2006).

(CNN, 2007)

So here lies the ethical issue, should compensated endorsements be made apparent to consumers?

Although the ASA and FTC confirm that, if a blogger is compensated to write a positive review they should clearly state that it is an advert rather than a normal article, this is extremely difficult to enforce.

This video is an example of a paid vlogger.

In this case they followed the rules, clearly demonstrating the endorsement.

Screen grab from youtube, #AD

However, in some cases celebrity Twitter endorsements can be deemed as misleading; if it’s not made clear that there has been a form of compensation from the brand.

The ASA introduced #ad to inform people when a tweet is a paid endorsement. However, this can sometimes result in negative feedback from followers, resulting in celebrities disregarding the rules.

Wayne Rooney was reprimanded for tweets about the sporting brand Nike last year, and was recently brought in front of the watchdog again due to the unclear nature of his marketing tweets.

Screen Shot 2016-04-20 at 21.36.58
Screen grab from twitter

Personally I use online reviews for many things, restaurants, holidays and any major purchase. Knowing that some of these may be biased or untrue isn’t a surprise; usually I feel I could tell the difference. However, research suggests that we are not that accurate in spotting fakes. Whilst software algorithms spot fakes 90% of the time (Mukherjee, Liu & Glance, 2012), regular people doing the same have 50% accuracy (Business Time, 2012). To boost your chances take a look at this guide 9 ways to spot a fake review.

Thanks for reading and leave a comment about your experiences with fake content!


Amblee & Bui, (2011) [Retrieved 20.04.16]http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.2753/JEC1086-4415160205

Business Time, (2012) [Retrieved 20.04.16] http://business.time.com/2012/02/03/9-reasons-why-you-shouldnt-trust-online-reviews/

Canham, E., Youtube, (2015), [Retrieved 20.04.16] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=STFS6BO5dkk&ebc=ANyPxKopQqB6T1CziIgdieLKW0uq3VNh_yMAO6gIONST_n1xN2OuIzU-AhFIKDC19AUnKLEkHEQbMcWOVMLw3j1EiSHeBayufg

Changing Minds (2016), Social Proof,  [Retrieved 20.04.16]  http://changingminds.org/principles/social_proof.htm

FTC, (2016) [Retrieved 20.04.16] https://www.ftc.gov/tips-advice/business-center/guidance/ftcs-endorsement-guides-what-people-are-asking

Gogoi, (2006) [Retrieved 20.04.16] https://www.ftc.gov/tips-advice/business-center/guidance/ftcs-endorsement-guides-what-people-are-asking

(Mukherjee, Liu & Glance, (2012) [Retrieved 20.04.16] http://dl.acm.org/citation.cfm?id=2187863    

Newsroom, (2015) [Retrieved 20.04.16] http://newsroom.niu.edu/2015/03/17/social-media-changing-the-rules-of-business-ethics/


CNN, (2007) [Retrieved 20.04.16]http://money.cnn.com/galleries/2007/biz2/0701/gallery.101dumbest_2007/54.html

Forbes, (2012) [Retrieved 20.04.16] http://blogs-images.forbes.com/steveolenski/files/2013/11/social-media-cube-1024×922.jpg



11 thoughts on “Endorsement Ethics. Who’s Opinion is Real?

  1. Hi Haley, this is a very interesting post and your Haiku Deck presentation is excellent and helpful.

    According to the social network theory, people increasingly rely on their social media connections when it comes to getting opinion about new products, services or activities. I think diffusion of ideas and opinions through social media is a powerful method of advertising for a fraction of the cost of conventional adverts – that is probably why it is so attractive to companies that are determined to fake personalised customer experience to sound more authentic and convincing.

    Based on the research you have done on the topic, do you think that endorsment on social media is a new phenomenon that follows technological development or is it an online version of traditional product promotion and advertising that has been present for decades? Personally, I think it is the latter; it is the scale, methods and reach that have changed. It would be interesting to know what you think.

    Kasaras, K., Klimis, G.M. and Michailidou, M. (2012) ‘Musical tastes in the Web 2.0: the importance of network dynamics’, Contemporary Social Science: Journal of the Academy of Social Sciences, 7(3), pp.335-349, available at http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/21582041.2012.683448.


  2. Hi Haley!

    I really enjoyed this blog post! I never knew there was a such thing as a prosumer but as you said, in a world where technology becoming more prominent in our lives it is hard to distinguish between consumers and producers! Your examples prompted me to think about other similar scams I’ve seen before on instagram. As you may have also noticed, brands like flat tummy tea are becoming known for their misleading advertising. They often target anyone with a good figure already although most have got there through surgery. Many people are in the same boat as you where they look around for things that work and if they are being mislead this could impact on their self confidence give people false hope. I think the general rule of thumb is – if the person directly @’s the company, they are being paid.

    Companies target individuals that will sell the brand and the individual participates because they get paid and freebies, however if they actually use the product is it really misleading? What are you opinions?


  3. Really engaging post Haley!

    The way you have highlighted how organisations can create fake reviews for their products and/or services has enabled me to see unethical business behaviour online from a fresh perspective. I had never considered it before, but your post made me think back to times I have read reviews online and found them a bit suspicious.

    For example, when I booked last summer’s holiday, I remember seeing the same review of a hotel posted twice by two different people, and thinking it was an odd coincidence or some sort of error. After viewing your Haiku Deck, I can now see that it was neither of these; it was clearly unethical behaviour on the business’ part to try and bring in more customers.

    Despite the fact that this is clearly dishonest and unethical, I do believe that there are much more serious unethical acts companies can carry out online; for example, leaking customer data. What do you think?


  4. Hey Haley, great and enlightening post!

    I agree with your point that it is hard to decipher nowadays as to what is an authentic, honest review and what is merely a subtly endorsed advertising mechanism. For me personally, as soon as I see the hashtags #ad and #spon (as in, ‘sponsored’) I am immediately turned off by the post and I tend to just ignore it and scroll onto the next thing on the homepage because it tells me instantly that it is not a real review of a product tested by an objective consumer and it is in fact a scripted and paid for alternative form of advertising.

    Whilst I recognise that the paradigm of the advertising model has changed drastically since the introduction of social media and the rise of insta-fame and bloggers, I can’t help but feel these types of ‘reviews’ are made solely with the intentions to sell a product, promote a brand and to promote the blogger’s own websites and names.

    I agree that it does raise an ethical issue within social media because it can be a misleading way of abusing the platforms forged by regular people to become cash cows to further advertise certain brands, however I think it’s commendable that at least the ASA has taken this into account and has reinforced the need to address when posts are actual endorsements and therefore adverts, to differentiate from when they are just real reviews.

    I think it is a shame that authority figures online tend to change their style as they become more well-known across social media to promote brands for a quick buck, but at the same time at least it is partially made clear that they are not trying to play into false advertising by highlighting the true intention and nature of their posts. Although it is not wholly unethical, bloggers such as the girl in the ‘make up tutorial’ that you show are succumbing to the system and potentially misleading their faithful followers that they gathered honestly from the start of their internet days. I however, instantly unfollow any online celebrity as soon as I start to notice them plugging companies for their own gain, because it goes against the very roots of their journey as they start to mildly exploit their followers. But, at the end of the day, business is business and people have to make money somehow, albeit at the expense of their less discerning viewers.


  5. Hiya Haley! Wow, what a brilliant post you’ve written for this week’s topic – an easy yet very informative read. As some who reads blog posts about locations, watches YouTube videos about make up, and swoons over Instagrams of the latest Topshop dress, I base my life around the words of so-called ‘prosumers’. As a result of this, your Haiku Deck could not be of higher use to me. Despite constantly looking for the red flags of a paid-for review, sometimes I’m too easily fooled and before I know it a company’s received my transaction for an item that is actually nothing like what I’d read it to be. It would seem I’m not alone though, with a survey by BlogHer reporting that ‘53% of female U.S blog readers purchasing a product based on a blog reccomendation’ (http://www.businessnewsdaily.com/882-bloggers-celebrities-influence.html). Would you say that the cons of relying on prosumers outweigh the benefits?
    Do you think that the introduction of laws surrounding advertising by vloggers has made a huge difference in reducing the amount of people ‘conned’ into buying products that aren’t actually worth the time or money? So many vloggers say ‘I wouldn’t be working with company A if I didn’t love the product’ but how can you actually believe them? You really can’t.


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