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Do You Let Brands Use You for Advertising?

This article was written by in Consumer. 15 comments.


From one of my social media accounts a few days ago, I responded to an article in Psychology Today. First of all, the article is a good read that discusses the relationship between money and happiness, and a recent study that disagrees with some of the more publicized studies from the past few years. It’s worth a note in a future article. I responded to a minor detail at the top of the article with a personal anecdote.

I noted to my followers on Twitter how as a child, I used to read through our family’s World Book Encyclopedia set often. I wanted to soak up as much information as I could, learning as much about as many topics as I could handle. I was interested in just about everything. Thirty or so years later, I don’t remember specific things I may have learned from reading the entries, but I am sure that the topics that most interested me went on to inform my interests as I grew up.

By sharing my experience with this particular product with my thousands of followers on Twitter, I didn’t mean to promote encyclopedias in general or the World Book Encyclopedia as a product above some of its competitors, like Encyclopædia Brittanica, Funk & Wagnalls, or, well, the internet. But it wasn’t long before World Book’s own social media representative noticed the comment about my dorky, encyclopedia-perusing nature, and broadcast a copy of my message to the company’s 393 followers.

Is my message now an endorsement of the brand? By World Book’s sharing of my thoughts about its product — or about my former use of the product — did I just take part in an advertising campaign? If so, where’s my check? When does the seemingly innocuous sharing of personal thoughts become something more than personal?

A conversation on Twitter is, in most cases, not enough to be worthy of an advertising campaign. Commercials on television reach millions of people. In most cases, unless you’re a celebrity, your mentions on Twitter are worth much less due to the limited audience.

We’d like to think that the barrier between sharing a personal message on social media and taking part in an advertising campaign is wide, but that’s not the case. People and companies get paid for mentioning products, and though the Federal Trade Commission is not happy about this, there’s very little disclosure as to which messages are paid endorsements with positive mentions — or “Pos-Mens” — and which are in casual conversations, not procured by the company being mentioned. Given that Twitter offers advertisers specific options for advertising and promotion, and more and more users are selling their audience’s eyeballs and mindshare to the highest bidder, it’s worth a second thought before you mention a brand among your friends.

It wouldn’t be realistic to go through our entire lives without mentioning brand names, but if you’ve built up a brand for yourself — like many successful bloggers and writers have done — your endorsement might have a value. Obviously, World Book probably couldn’t care any less about whether I endorse their brand. Look at Suze Orman. She endorsed leasing a car from General Motors a few years ago, building up the association of Suze’s brand of smart finance with GM’s expensive products. Recently, Suze switched her endorsement to Acura.

It’s reasonable to expect these car companies have paid Suze for her endorsements — and paid her well, as they should. Suze has one of the biggest audiences of all the media-savvy financial experts, and her endorsement of a product, implicitly identifying the product as a smart financial choice, is a highly sought-after prize (available to the highest bidder). I bet she’s careful not to mention products from companies with whom she doesn’t have arrangements such as this, and that limitation keeps the value of her endorsement high. If she doesn’t endorse many products, the endorsements she actually selects are worth more.

There are not many people in the world who have the same power as Suze Orman. Our endorsements are worth much less because whether we have our own media outlets or just a bunch of friends following us on Twitter, our reach is much smaller and our personal brands are not nearly as well-known. That doesn’t make it acceptable to allow ourselves to be used by larger companies in their advertising campaigns without permission. Two popular types of television and radio commercials are the “celebrity endorsement” and the “man on the street endorsement.” Both the celebrities and the men (and women) on the street get paid when their appear in these commercials. A company’s retweet of a customer’s offhand comment can be seen as a man on the street endorsement with the added benefit of not costing the company a dime.

Do you have any problems with companies using you for the benefit of their advertising?

Photo: Flickr

Published or updated March 11, 2013. If you enjoyed this article, subscribe to the RSS feed or receive daily emails. Follow @ConsumerismComm on Twitter and visit our Facebook page for more updates.

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About the author

Luke Landes, also known as Flexo, is the founder of Consumerism Commentary. He has been blogging and writing for the internet since 1995 and has been building online communities since 1991. Find out more about him and follow Luke Landes on Twitter. View all articles by .

{ 15 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar SteveDH

Yes, I would have a problem with this if there was significant PII. (Personal Identification Information). There are too many ways to use PII in a bad way. On the other hand if it just mentioned “a reader form Missouri wrote” then I might be OK with it – after all, I did say I liked the product and I doubt they would tweet my criticism.

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avatar Steve

Tweets are public statements. Everything you say there can and may be repeated. You can’t even delete it, as there are services out there collecting tweets that people later tried to delete. So should you be careful about what you say over twitter? Sure. Should you worry about mentioning a brand name? No more than you would discussing it on a public street with a friend. Maybe I just have a different perspective on this because I am not a public figure, but if I enjoy a brand enough to mention it, why would it be a problem if multiple people see my “endorsement” and act on it? Should I avoid rating products on Amazon and Newegg, businesses on Yelp, contractors on Angie’s list just because other people may make a purchasing decision based in part on my rating?

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avatar qixx ♦1,816 (Half-Dollar)

Reading the title i was expecting this to be about something akin to wearing branded clothing. I’m ok with companies using me in their campaigns. I might have more objection if some people in the campaign are paid and i was not. Many companies say that comments, tweets and emails can be used for advertizing purposes. ESPN makes that statement a lot during shows like Around The Horn, just about everything on CNN says the same. I know tweeting in a question can and hopefully will be used. And anything i mention is also a message to them.

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avatar Luke Landes ♦127,373 (Platinum)

I think I wrote about branded clothing many years ago, but it ties in here as well. I don’t want to pay a company to advertise for them, like the word GAP emblazoned across my sweatshirt. But other brands are less subtle. The Lacoste alligator logo, for example. Those clothes more expensive, so you’re paying more for the “privilege” of wearing a branded item of clothing when the quality of another less expensive brand might be equal. But you’re also paying to be associated with the brand, which is a good thing for companies that want to appear more elite or selective. It’s all a marketing game that I’d rather not play, but I’m not motivated enough to completely rid my wardrobe of identifying logos.

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avatar Tom Dziubek

This sounds like the perfect opportunity to push the new “Consumerism Commentary” t-shirt!

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avatar jim

Tweets are free game. If you say stuff in public people can quote you.

When did Suze Orman endorse leases? I don’t see any direct record of that. She was in an Acura commercial and GM commercial before that. But the Acura one I saw at least doesn’t say anything about leasing.

Its sad that World Book only has 393 followers. A parody twitter feed @ZooeySiri where Zoey Daschenel asks Siri stupid questions has 100x followers.

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avatar Luke Landes ♦127,373 (Platinum)

Perhaps World Book should get Zooey Deschanel as the (paid) company spokesperson… their audience would surely expand. She’s got the right encyclopedia-ish look, too.

The GM commercials promoted leasing their vehicles. The commercial with Suze Orman ran only for a month, but promoted GM’s “lock and roll” promotion which was a financing plan.

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avatar jim

Was Suze explicitly saying “go lease a car” or was she featured in an ad that ended with the buy/lease details? I think theres a pretty big difference there and I suspect she was just in an ad as a celebrity, not saying “go lease a GM” explicitly.

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avatar Luke Landes ♦127,373 (Platinum)

I couldn’t find any of the actual commercials — so now I’m not sure. I thought “lock and roll” was a leasing plan but maybe it was just a marketing phrase GM used for borrowing.

Borrowing money for a new car when a less expensive brand or older model will do still goes against Suze’s theretofore typical advice — don’t buy what you can’t afford — and the ad campaign was seen as out of character for the guru.

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avatar Luke Landes ♦127,373 (Platinum)

I would also say that when it comes to celebrities offering advice on “good buys” in a commercial, there’s a difference between Suze Orman and, say, Alec Baldwin. One has a brand that is strongly correlated to the idea of good financial advice, the other is just an actor (with a highly recognizable voice).

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avatar jim

Yeah I certainly agree here. Suze’s endorsement ends up implying something is a good financial move. She’s not like other celebrities in that respect.

I don’t think Suze has made all the best endorsements and I do think a supposed financial guru should be a lot more careful and picky about what they endorse. But I would have been quite surprised if she endorsed leases because she typically berates / scolds people for getting car leases. Endorsing new cars in general isn’t necessarily the most frugal but I haven’t seen Suze really criticize new car purchases in general. So while it may not be the best frugal choice it, if she is in ads for new cars its at least not outright hypocrisy from her.

avatar jim

Looks like this is the promotion in question :

http://www.nytimes.com/2004/11/11/business/media/11adco.html?pagewanted=print&position=&_r=0

I don’t see anything there about leasing.

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avatar Ceecee ♦796 (Dime)

I’d be a bit upset if I were you. You do have a very popular site here and there probably should be some compensation for using your name. Is there anything in the fine print when you sign up for a twitter account? I don’t know because I don’t have one.

On a side note, I used to read the dictionary just for fun—-a true word geek!

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avatar JoeTaxpayer

Interesting. In this age of social media, I don’t see anything wrong with company tweeters retweeting mentions of their name. Although at some point, it’s tough to know where one should draw the line.

I remarked on my blog and on twitter how I enjoyed Dr Thomas Stanley’s “Stop Acting Rich” and that I happen to wear a Timex and drive an Avalon noting that he said these were the common watch and car of the “millionaire next door.” I didn’t hear from either Timex or Toyota, but it’s always cool when a well known published author comments on your blog or re-tweets your mention of his book.

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avatar Tiffany

I think being on social media opens you up to endorsements regardless of if you choose to or not. I think it’s the nice thing about social media is that now you know when a friend or trusted resource endorses a company brand…you know that it’s not a bought endorsement!

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