Endorsement ethics: Holding celebrities accountable

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By Howard Kim, Staff Reporter

Following the tragic Astroworld incident, people are once again asking the age-old question, “Should celebrities be held responsible for the products and values they promote?” Considering the blind trust fans place in their idols and the lack of government regulation on endorsements, the answer is “absolutely.”

At its core, an endorsement is an assurance from an influencer to their audience, an implicit promise that the merchandise meets their standards and is worth buying. This is a deal made possible by the fans’ admiration for their idol; any advertising resulting in the injury of consumers is an exploitation of their love. 

When a pharmaceutical company advertises a weight loss pill without stating the laundry list of potential side effects, the FDA steps in. Yet, when Kim Kardashian posed with Flat Tummy’s dietary lollipops with no explanation to her 283 million followers as to what they are, she faced zero legal repercussions and actually earned between $300,000 and $500,000. 

This double standard was further exemplified with the tragic Astroworld incident that the lead musical act, Travis Scott, promoted and promised to overcrowd. A deadly crowd surge and lack of protocol for such a disaster resulted in 10 deceased and hundreds injured. However, Scott faced no criminal charges for his actions.

Holding celebrities responsible for their actions is even more crucial in the current digital age because every action they take is on display to anyone with an account. When someone with a large following blatantly disregards the effect of their actions and prioritizes personal profit, especially on platforms like Instagram with at least 185 million daily users under 25, they must be held accountable for their dishonest gains.

Federal regulations are necessary because the allure of an easy profit can lead influencers to lose sight of their morals. If drug companies could remove the final ten seconds of a man rattling off their product’s potential risks from their advertisement, they would do it in a heartbeat, and oblivious consumers would suffer. Because of the lack of regulation, those same customers are suffering anyway as celebrities endorse products without providing information.

This doesn’t mean that an endorsement as a business tool is detrimental to society. In fact, a study by Harvard Business School professor Anita Elberse and Barclays Capital analyst Jeroen Verleuni found that signing a big-name endorser typically increases a company’s sales by $10 million annually and spurs a 0.25% increase in stock returns. 

However, companies selling harmful products may sign deals with celebrities to give their reputation a facelift and profit from fans unaware of their repercussions. These businesses are attempting to fool the consumers into purchasing their products with marketing, so the government must step in and protect the potential victims.

Until there is legislation governing the endorsement of harmful merchandise by celebrities, we must protest and stop buying items because a celebrity claims that it worked for them, and do our own research instead. The only way to enact large-scale change is to urge our representatives to propose a bill similar to the FDA’s pharmaceutical advertisement laws that would cover all products rather than stop at drugs. When it comes to obstructing the truth, celebrity endorsements are no different than faulty advertisements, so they shouldn’t be treated differently by the law, either.


Howard Kim can be reached at [email protected]