The concept of a “celebrity” endorsement is not a new concept. For decades companies have been hiring famous actors, athletes, and other “famous” people to tout their product. In the modern age, some of these endorsement packages can measure in the millions of dollars. Experts disagree on the effectiveness of these endorsements and whether they pay for themselves in the long run. However, companies continue to pay celebrities to hock their wares. Some people have a few ethical issues with this process and here are a few of reasons why this is the case.
One situation where celebrity endorsements may seem unethical is when it seems unlikely that the person endorsing actually uses the product. Granted, it may be difficult to know whether or not a celebrity is a common user of the product. For example, Tiger Woods has long been someone who endorses Buick automobiles. With the millions of dollars that Tiger makes, is it likely that he drives a Buick? Theoretically it is possible, but it seems more likely that Tiger drives a luxury vehicle. Or, he may not even drive himself from place to place.
Another situation that might seem unethical is when celebrities promote particular products that are not “beneficial” for society. Granted, celebrities aren’t exactly out selling substances that are illegal. However, glorifying certain types of consumables such as snack and beverages, as well as consumer-oriented products that people don’t really “need”, may raise concerns with some people. Do people really need to eat more fast food or drink large quantities of alcoholic beverages that can lead to abuse and violence? Granted, it is not the fault of the celebrity that people misuse products. However, if the possibility is there for misuse, the celebrity is associated with the product.
Finally, celebrity endorsements may seem unethical when the people involved get into difficulties in their life that reflect poorly on the company. This is often manifested in the form of anti-social behavior or illegal activity. For example, Michael Vick was a star in the National Football League and had contracts for millions in endorsements. However, his conviction on federal charges and resulting incarceration caused his companies to void endorsement contracts. A similar situation occurred when Kellogg’s severed their relationship with Olympian Michael Phelps, after he admitted to smoking marijuana. The company stated that this type of behavior was not consistent with the “image” of the cereal maker. This is also why some companies write language into endorsement contracts that allow them to end arrangements if these types of things occur.
Overall, celebrity endorsements have existed for decades and probably will continue on into the future. However, the behavior of these celebrities is not always ethical, and their subsequent endorsements may always be associated with their personality and image. Most consumers can tell the difference, but people always have to ask themselves whether or not they should use a product because a paid spokesperson says so.