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When radio jock and Idols judge Gareth Cliff describes Playboy magazine on his Facebook page as “classy” and “riveting”, does he mean it or is he being paid to say it?
A good word from Gareth Cliff could cost you R20 000, but his 400 000 Facebook friends and Twitter followers may not know that they are reading advertising.
Fan or not, there’s no denying that Cliff is a character. Whether he’s celebrating the death of a controversial politician, or interviewing Jesus on his radio show, he creates controversy and makes a show of it. For his social media followers this, his “independent” opinion, is often seen as the best part of Cliff.
However, just how independent is this independent opinion?
A “social media rate card” received by Memeburn verified as genuine by his representatives proved a rumour that had been making the rounds on Twitter that the jock has been pitching his Facebook and Twitter accounts for advertising and endorsements.
A “tweet about the brand” or a “Facebook-branded status update” will set an advertiser back around R20 000.
A “game sponsorship” on Cliff’s Facebook page could cost a company upwards of R75 000, while a “full campaign” meaning a campaign encapsulating all social media presences would “vary per campaign”.
Sponsorship and endorsement deals for celebrities be they actors or sportsmen are of course nothing new. We’ve all seen celebrities driving around in vehicles emblazoned with the name of the sponsoring dealership, for example.
Now that celebrities and advertisers are equally embracing social media, it is hardly surprising that this real life relationship has mutated on to tools such as Facebook and Twitter. Already, advertising regulators are starting to take notice of this.
According to a report in the Guardian earlier this year, the UK’s Office of Fair Trading (OFT) began “a crackdown on Twitter users and bloggers using their online presence to endorse products and companies without clearly stating their relationship with the brand”.
As the OFT put it, not disclosing that “any form of online advertising” is not paid for is deceptive.
Coppola, the originator of the tweet that started this story and who also owns a PR firm, reckons that attempts to use a large public following by a celebrity “as a means to entice agencies to pay them a large retainer” are “borderline unethical”.
He also said: “Give the public transparency. DJ Fresh [a colleague of Cliff] is in a commercial for car-tyres. That’s OK. [However], tweeting a brand without declaring your commercial interest is underhand and shows no respect for your audience, supporters or followers.”
It’s not that simple, though.
Cliff on the one hand has every right to free enterprise. This is a free and capitalist nation after all, but is Cliff being fair to his Facebook fans and Twitter followers? Whether he declares the sponsored tweet or not, does paid advertising belong in someone’s personal social media stream?
As Cliff put it in a 2010 interview on Memeburn, he thought it was great “that so many people want to hear my thoughts and jokes, see my pictures, and identify with my experiences”.
But is it so great that now, in addition to those thoughts and jokes, Cliff’s loyal followers may be getting the odd advertisement too? I guess it’s up to Cliff’s followers to decide.
I asked Cliff for comment to establish if the “advertisement tweets” would be via himself or penned by an agency?
Cliff’s representative Rina Broomberg replied: “Mr Cliff is responsible for content on his social media platforms and would not compromise his brand or that of selected clients where there may be mutually beneficial projects.
“As for negative sentiments expressed [by some people on Twitter], what would life be without the naysayers? Being at the forefront of online activities yourself, you would know that this [Gareth’s commercial use of social media] is a threat to traditional vehicles. As Gareth always says, thanks to social media everyone is now a broadcaster.”