SATC exposed for paying celebs to tweet about Kangaroo Island, agency: ‘It’s not illegal’

The South Australian Tourism Commission has come under fire from MediaWatch for paying celebrities to tweet positive things about Kangaroo Island.

The ABC show last night revealed that celebrities including celebrity chef Matt Moran, Australian idol contestant Shannon Noll and TV presenter Sophie Falkiner have been paid to Spruik the destination.

The revelation comes one month after SATC launched a TV-led ad campaign for Kangaroo Island, created by Adelaide agency KWP!.

MediaWatch came across an email circulated from a publicist, which read:

I have been contacted by South Australian Tourism and they are looking for high profile celebrities with a high twitter following to tweet about Kangaroo Island. They will pay $750 plus GST for one tweet. They don’t want to tweet to appear endorsed, rather an organic mention, injecting your own personality into the tweet.

The SATC’s director of marketing communications David O’Loughlin confirmed to Mumbrella that his organisation had been “using influencers” to promote the island.

John Baker, managing partner at KWP!, defended his agency’s ‘cash for tweets’ activity, telling Mumbrella: “What we’ve done is not illegal. Endorsement by celebrities has been going on since advertising began. Paris Hilton walks around with a Gucci handbag, but no one expects her to say I’m being paid to carry this.”

“If we were to recruit everyday Aussies, that would be misleading. But we’re using celebrities to start conversations, and celebrities are commercial brands in their own right,” he said.

O’Loughlin told Mumbrella: “We have not said to the celebrity, ‘Don’t tell anyone you’re being paid to tweet this’. If they decide to reveal they’re being paid, that’s up to them. We haven’t asked anyone to make anything up, like they’ve been to Kangaroo Island when actually they haven’t.”

He added: “Product placement has been around for decades, in radio and in television. What we’re seeing is a natural progression of this concept into social media.”

Lawyer Stephen von Muenster, principal at von Muenster Solicitors & Attorneys, told Mumbrella: “In certain circumstances, blogs including microblogs such as tweets that purport to be a genuine unsolicited celebrity testimonial when they are not may be a breach of Section 18 of the Australian Consumer Law, which prohibits misleading and deceptive conduct.”

Von Muenster continued: “Other problem areas include for example, having a celebrity claim that they have been to a place that they have never been. To ensure testimonials are lawful, testimonials should be truthful, accurate and disclose in an appropriate way important affiliations with a brand.”

The SATC sent Mumbrella figures in March that showed that searches for Kangaroo Island had increased by 208% in the fortnight after the ad was launched.

Baker said: “I don’t think the MediaWatch show has tarnished our ad campaign at all. I have never seen a response to an ad campaign like this in my career, it’s been amazingly positive.”


  1. S
    24 Apr 12
    9:30 am

  2. Oh, it’s a woeful day that SATC no longer stands for sex and the city…

    For Kangaroo Island – beautiful place but mental for the cost of travelling there. The spruikers were paid that much because it costs that much to travel. Ok maybe slightly exaggerated but the $750 is what you’d probably end up spending on a day of travel there.

    It’s $48 just to travel on a ferry to get there. If you want to bring your car, it’d cost you $140. If there’s two adults and a car, it’d be $188….and that’s just to get you to the island. If you wanted to do it on the cheap, then pack a lunch and bring a push bike, but it’s a hilly and large island!

  3. Graham
    24 Apr 12
    9:33 am

  4. Not sure how this is illegal? There are advertising platforms for this, but none that are Australia specific (to my knowledge). If anything, there is a business opportunity here.

  5. S
    24 Apr 12
    9:34 am

  6. Oh I forgot, that’s one way. If you want two adults, a car and return travel, that will set you back $376.

    Thanks Sea Link!

  7. karalee
    24 Apr 12
    10:12 am

  8. Graham – noone has asserted it’s illegal. The KWP! rep put that in his response to deflect/inflame away from the real issue; disingenuous representation by ‘influential’ people.

    The quote that stands out for me is “They don’t want to tweet to appear endorsed, rather an organic mention, injecting your own personality into the tweet.”

    This paid endorsement/sponsorship of brands, products, political parties etc is something that is relatively new in Aus social media. And we need to have a wider discussion about the ethics of representing opinion to an audience when that opinion has been bought.

    The accepted ethics of sponsorship of celebrity tweets etc in other countries is to disclose the relationship so the audience can understand if there is a possible agenda behind a tweet. We need to demand as consumers and agency reps that we have the same willingness of disclosure here, because frankly, campaigns such as the SATC undermine authentic endorsement or ‘organic’ conversation across the board. And that just makes everyone’s lives harder.

    There is a fine line between this, and astroturfing ( which is a technique we have largely shunned and called out in Australia. We need to do the same with this.

  9. Krissy
    24 Apr 12
    10:27 am

  10. I heard something similar to this about Snickers in the UK – they paid celebs to tweet ‘unusual’ things, then after a few weird posts they’d say ‘You’re not you when you’re hungry’ with a pic of them holding a Snickers bar – there was controversy with this but the argument was that it was an obvious ad/endorsement and not misleading. I’m not sure if the same rules apply in Australia (anyone?) but the above does seem a little misleading in making the tweets sound ‘natural’ …Can anyone clarify this more? Very interesting

  11. karalee
    24 Apr 12
    10:29 am

  12. Hold the phone – seems making representation that purports to be testimonial relating to goods or services is prohibited under section 52 of the Trade Practices Act 1974 (Cth) (“TPA”) which has now become section 18 of the Australian Consumer Law (“ACL”) (which is found in Schedule 2 to the Competition and Consumer Act 2010 (Cth)) (third para)

  13. John Lethlean
    24 Apr 12
    10:30 am

  14. It’s simple. The next time Matt Moran Tweets his enthusiasm for something I’ll just assume it was neither spontaneous nor genuine, but rather a service for a fee.

  15. Richie
    24 Apr 12
    10:35 am

  16. Does anyone else consider that perhaps the larger issue here is that when a call is put out for “high profile Australian celebrities” Matt Moran and Shannon Noll are the successful applicants! What’s more frightening is that 2 channel 10 idiots from reality TV shows (one of which had his “peak” like 10 years ago) can be considered “influencers” within our twitter community!

    I don’t think it’s really worth getting pissy at SATC over paying some twats to tweet, when we should be pissy with ourselves for this grim reminder of how shit our own popular culture is! These 2 sad excuses for C grade celebrities exist within Australia probably as A-listers and don’t even warrant a verified status on Twitter!

  17. Disappointed
    24 Apr 12
    10:43 am

  18. $750 seems a very cheap price for a celebrity (multi millionaire celebrity in Moran’s case) to sell their dignity.

  19. whatjanesays
    24 Apr 12
    10:46 am

  20. S…. still laughing about the SATC

  21. Logic
    24 Apr 12
    10:51 am

  22. $750 is the biggest payday shannon noll has had in a long time

  23. JW
    24 Apr 12
    10:57 am

  24. It sure isn’t illegal. I wonder how many celebs would say yes to it…

    @Krissy – thanks for sharing the Snickers example. That’s a great extension to the BBDO NY global snickers tv campaign that is being entered into award shows at the moment.

    @John Lethlean – I agree. And he’s clearly happy to do that for $750+GST. It’ll take a fair few of these tweets to denigrate his twitter brand. But I hardly think it’ll be worth it. Interesting to know that celebs of Matt Moran’s profile can be bought like that. Almost as ugly as the live-read endorsements on radio that we are all used to here. Thankfully they have gone from TV now.

  25. Groucho
    24 Apr 12
    11:02 am

  26. It’s not illegal. It is sad, pathetic and deceitful though.

  27. tweeter
    24 Apr 12
    11:09 am

  28. no differint than a live read in radio. its the new media!

  29. Skippy
    24 Apr 12
    11:30 am

  30. Better if SATC and kwp actually had an idea that was strong enough to generate genuine social chatter. Try that next time guys. However, the only thing that seems really wrong is that the celebrity tweeters can be bought so cheap and have such low regard for their followers.

    @S – you live in Adelaide don’t you? City of cheapskates.

    Like to go to there one day. Nice TVC.

  31. Cognitively DIssonant
    24 Apr 12
    11:46 am

  32. Both those tweets are so obviously paid, unnatural endorsement. Anyone following either of those two would either scroll right over it or use it as the inspiration to “unfollow”. Twitter is all about credibility on specific topics: Annabel Crabb on Aus Pol, Gerard Whateley on sport, Mark Textor on spin.

    Getting a singer and a chef to talk about tourism destinations without tying it in to their specialty is just poor recruiting and wasted money. Whoever your social media strategist is “Sex and The City”, they’re not very strategic.

    I’d be interested to know how many followers Moran and Noll lost because of their tweet. I’d also like to know why these paid tweets had no link in them so you could track how effective they were.

    @cognitivelydissonant (pretending to be a famous chef)
    Pumped! Just booked awesome gourmet holiday on Kangaroo Island. Easily one of Australia’s best foodie holiday spots.

  33. chris
    24 Apr 12
    11:47 am

  34. tweeter – I disagree.

    The “live read” is very plainly and obviously an ad due to its scripted nature, its placement (usually in the middle of a block of ads) and its very clear advertising tone.

    This Kangaroo Island guff is much more insidious because it purports to be nothing like an ad – it actually sets out to deceive people into believing the Tweets are unpaid for, spontaneous genuine endorsement.

    So, on one hand we have clear advertising content, on the other, advertising content hiding behind a “genuine” Twitter Tweet.

    Reckon they are very different

  35. Daniel Jacob
    24 Apr 12
    11:59 am

  36. It’s simple.

    Everybody has a choice when presented with options. These ‘celebrities’ can choose to interpret the message in any way that they wish to.

    There will always be people complaining or unhappy about it, deeming such a mode of communication as biased or dishonest.

    It isn’t. It is tactical way that KMP has employed, and I really am thrilled to see things being done differently in the Australian market. Let people complain, let people be unhappy. For every 1 unhappy person, if there is a chance to make someone happy, then it is worth it.


  37. zumabeach
    24 Apr 12
    12:22 pm

  38. Basically it’s cash for comment and little different from what Alan Jones and John Laws were charged with and found guilty of all those years ago – only with social media you can get away with anything. But anyone who buys a product because it’s talked up by an over-hyped cook, TV talking head or has been pop star clearly can’t think for themselves.

  39. S
    24 Apr 12
    12:41 pm

  40. @Skippy – Nay I am not from Adelaide. And I’ve been to Kanagaroo Island once in the 80s when it wasn’t all hyped up and cheaper to travel, and then two years ago, when they fleeced me of my hard earned money. I prefer with that kind of money, travelling to Tasmania. I am happy to pay national park fees but the cost is just outrageous. I think it would be a major downer esp for young families that want an inexpensive trip somewhere. Clearly Kanagaroo Island isn’t marketing for that then!

  41. Greg W
    24 Apr 12
    12:43 pm

  42. I love kangaroo island. I love kangaroo island. I love kangaroo island.
    This is where all the social media nerds get upset when they realise that social media is mainstream and not the pure democracy they were all spruiking 2 years ago
    Guess what? This has been going on on twitter for a long time. Do you think publicists like all the products they talk about on twitter or the record labels like all the albums they tweet. No, they are pushing these because they get paid to do so.
    It’s called marketing and twitter is just another way of doing it. Get over it purists

  43. Andrew Bolt & Gina Rinehart's Love Child
    24 Apr 12
    12:57 pm

  44. And don’t forget Matt is getting paid by these guys to promote T-Qual.

    What? You haven’t heard of it?

    It’s the shiny new campaign from Tourism Australia. Don’t know how much trip advisor is paying him to do this. But you know. It’s about the future. And the Yoof and the bloggers.

    Yes ladies and gentleman. That is the campaign strategy that OMD went with when Tourism Australia changed agencies from Carat, and the old media plan was dumped. You know. It involved old fashioned “advertising”. Which as we all know just doesn’t cut it anymore.

    This new campaign is seven shades of awesome and it’s all my friends and I can talk about at the moment. But I haven’t heard Tourism Australia talking it up.

  45. Slice And Dice
    24 Apr 12
    12:59 pm

  46. John Lethlean sums this up perfectly. Short term gain…No need for a furore, he’s done nothing wrong in my book. However, I won’t be believing anything Matt Moran tweets in the future.

  47. Dave
    24 Apr 12
    1:08 pm

  48. Stuff the legalities, it’s the moralities that count.
    Who believes celebs anyway after their regularly spectacular falls from grace.
    Anyway, instead of spending $750 to visit Kangaroo Island for the day, spend a weekend in New Zealand instead where the dollar expands to about $925 in local buying power!
    Even beats Tassie!

  49. Janet
    24 Apr 12
    1:10 pm

  50. This is not the first tourist organisation to do this – Destination NSW did something similar last year with a youth campaign on Visit NSW. Big fail.
    Main issue is that the celebs may never have actually been near KI – but viewers on twitter may percieve they have been there – deceptive.

  51. julie
    24 Apr 12
    1:12 pm

  52. S, I am with you…. I looked into going there a couple of times but it’s seriously not value for money, the ferry thing is a joke. Looks stunning though….

  53. cynicle
    24 Apr 12
    1:12 pm

  54. Completely agree with @tweeter and @GregW – it’s a free-speech-led communications channel, and isn’t (and shouldn’t be) regulated to keep it unbiased and ‘objective’. It’s not the news. What about the current affairs shows that air segments on retail products/retailers in the guise of ‘exposes’ (recent example, A2 milk)? What about mags that do ‘top 10 products’ or ‘products we love’ lists… I imagine some or most of those were freebies. Good on the SATC for being innovative.

  55. Dave
    24 Apr 12
    1:14 pm

  56. I think the real discussion here is the utter lack of knowledge that this agency has about its target audience and about social media.

    Paying $750 to any celebrity who’s willing to send a tweet just reeks of a lack of strategy, where the agency is only interested in showing end figures (oh look we had 5 celebrities with a total of 2 million followers send a tweet that no one saw!) rather than looking at the conversion of a target audience that is likely to visit Kangaroo Island.

    Wouldn’t the money have been better spend on finding a celebrity who had visited, is truly passionate about Kangaroo Island and identifies with their target audience, to visit and tweet / blog their trip?

  57. beezlebub
    24 Apr 12
    1:21 pm

  58. ahhh no Greg it ain’t like publicists talking about their client’s products on Twitter, nor is it like live reads. These sources and media environments put the viewer/listener on alert that it’s a commercial endorsement

    Twitter’s power lies in it’s authentic WOM vibe

    hence KWP’s instruction “They don’t want to tweet to appear endorsed, rather an organic mention, injecting your own personality into the tweet”

    what amazes me is that you can be as stupid as all the agency people and client involved in this and still make a decent living in marketing

    it really is another world

  59. GC
    24 Apr 12
    1:24 pm

  60. And yet this comment thread is free of Astro-turf. *Head scratch*

    What would constitute full disclosure in the context of Twitter?

  61. Reevesy
    24 Apr 12
    1:30 pm

  62. The 1st rule of social media is transparency. Here now is the back lash of not following said rule.

  63. Offal Spokesperson
    24 Apr 12
    1:36 pm

  64. Cash for comments!

    What i find more disturbing is that people might read these “celebrities” tweets and actually act on them… seriously??
    even more ridiculous, someone will pay these “celebrities” for a 1 line tweet of no relevance.
    Oh no….
    more ridiculous still, the taxpayers of SA( hah and considering the gst structure) and Australia…are paying for this.

  65. JC
    24 Apr 12
    1:37 pm

  66. Paid for tweets? That’s how the Kardashians make money – albeit a small percentage of their turnover . . .

    S – fully agree with the SATC bit!

  67. highground
    24 Apr 12
    1:38 pm

  68. it’s always the case that the purists seem to think they have the right to speak for other people and judge what is acceptable in social media while promoting freedom of social media… hmm

    the results should be the judge of whether it was successful, not what the opinions of other people.

  69. Greg W
    24 Apr 12
    1:41 pm

  70. Ah no Beezlewhatever. Put your text book down and stop using buzzwords. If you think twitter is authentic you’re never going to make it in the marketing world. You’re ignorant to think that the tweets you read are from the heart. That’s inexperience. I bet you also thought brands were never going to commercialize Facebook.

  71. paul the freelance writer
    24 Apr 12
    1:48 pm

  72. ‘Moralities’? ‘authentic WOM vibe’?

    Nonsense. Twitter users don’t own a moral property; they are using a commercial channel that just happens to be accessible to the public. That doesn’t give it a higher moral status.

    At the end of the day it is up to individuals to make up their own minds on the value of someone’s statement presented on any medium.

  73. Rule breaker
    24 Apr 12
    1:53 pm

  74. I wondered how long it would take before someone said ‘they broke the rules of social media’ Put a hot poker in my eye. That’s what good brands do and social media is not somehow immune to it. Show me the rules that were not written by a 22yo social media commentator.

  75. ronnie B
    24 Apr 12
    2:00 pm

  76. sorry, but can someone please tell me who Sophie Faulkner is ????

  77. S
    24 Apr 12
    2:17 pm

  78. Sophie Faulkner – one time Wheel of Fortune game show hostess that spun around large letters and sometime Berlei bra ambassador are the ones that come to mind.

  79. Mark
    24 Apr 12
    2:24 pm

  80. Firstly, Comment number 1 had our whole office laughing – thankyou!
    Can’t get my head around how Mediawatch were so far off the mark thinking twitter wasn’t going to be used for advertising in this way.
    Disclaimer: this comment was in no way sponsored by Good News Week.

  81. S
    24 Apr 12
    2:24 pm

  82. @Dave – yes but airfare to NZ can cost you some pretty coin unless you get the sale fares so the $900 odd dollars becomes much less if you factor in travel cost

    @julie – It was gorgeous but pretty much most of the “untouched” Australia is the same…for price tag, it was cheaper to fly to Tasmania and hire a car for a couple of days to explore. That said, the seals I saw on Kangaroo Island were pretty special and you can get up close, which you can’t really do in most places of the world.

  83. JB
    24 Apr 12
    2:39 pm

  84. I liked Sophie Falkiner’s complying tweet:

    “Friends have raved about Kangaroo Island…looks beautiful on the add [sic]. Has anyone been?”

    Didn’t she say her friends had “raved” about it?

    I guess she or her ghost tweeter forgot that bit. Oops.

    Sophie Falkiner should stick to tweeting the twuth – it’s a lot easier to remember.

  85. Graham
    24 Apr 12
    2:42 pm

  86. @karalee – Agree, its not going to achieve anything, obviously fake and isn’t worth the money they paid. But saying that this is not uncommon.

  87. KC
    24 Apr 12
    3:02 pm

  88. Cash for Kangaroo Island comments seems to be the new black. And it appears the bloggers are getting in on the fun too.

    All of them glowingly refer to Kangaroo Island but I bet they haven’t even been to the darn place. From what I heard, a sponsored post of this kind will net you $1000.

    Considering the celeb’s pay packet of $750 for 140 characters or less, these bloggers are getting ripped off.

  89. Wilton Troop
    24 Apr 12
    4:01 pm

  90. Nothing surprises in this new way of trying to con people, which it is.
    What is surprising is that Matt Moran needs $750 that badly that he sacrifices his reputation. But then what about Matt Preston and the rest of the dreary dudes from MasterChef and Junior MasterChef with their promotions of rubbish products?
    John Lethlean is spot on!

  91. Adam Joseph
    24 Apr 12
    4:21 pm

  92. “Phillip Island in VIC is a gazillion times better than Kangaroo Island in SA”

    (Great, that takes care of my bills for the next month 😉

  93. talkingboonie
    24 Apr 12
    4:36 pm

  94. Slow news day; comparing this to “cash-for-comment” where “broadcasters” masquerading as journalists are held to some sort of ethical standard is a bit naive. If you think this is a scandal then you may as well just get started on hating the world because this isn’t new, one gets the tweets one deserves…

  95. facts
    24 Apr 12
    5:13 pm

  96. @KC – I think you should read the blog posts before assuming. They are writing about a switch off challenge, not about a glowing review.

  97. Nikki @ Styling You
    24 Apr 12
    6:03 pm

  98. @KC, I’m one of the Nuffnang bloggers involved in the campaign – and yes I’ve been to Kangaroo Island!

  99. Gee
    24 Apr 12
    6:30 pm

  100. Try checking twitter for 1000’s of tweets from Oz celebrities talking about products, gyms, airlines, restaurants. Why do you think theyre doing it. Because they liked the gym equipment??? It’s VERY common in Australia because it works
    That’s why marketers do it.

  101. AC
    24 Apr 12
    9:12 pm

  102. What’s more sinister is that journalists are also being approached with these cash-for-tweets offers and some are saying yes. Very hard to prove once it’s done, but we who turn down such offers tend to have a pretty good idea of who doesn’t!
    I know, no surprise. But every time my profession once again proves that ethics is a county near Sussex, I sigh and feel sad because some of us do try to stick to our incorruptible guns.

  103. Twetjob
    25 Apr 12
    9:27 pm

  104. I ‘like’ the comment made by Richie.

  105. paul
    26 Apr 12
    10:24 am

  106. Stuff the legalities, it’s the moralities that count.
    The law exists to control people (& corporations) who have a limited moral compass.
    And if anyone needs reminding of this, they might like to reflect on Murdoch defending the demonstrable damage caused by activities of News in the UK, which are both illegal and immoral.
    Can’t wait for the Oz chapter in this to unroll over the next few months, of which the hacking of pay-tv cards is just part. Check out the tax structure of Murdoch’s empire.
    And of Google’s, for that matter: where Oz income is channeled thru lo-tax Ireland! The new world order leaves Oz somewhat poorer, viz Gina R, etc.

  107. ex-agency girl
    26 Apr 12
    11:30 am

  108. Just send the celebrities to Kangaroo Island for a mini-break between jobs, and have them TwitPic from there. That will appease everyone and make it more authentic. If they like it – they’ll tweet. If they don’t, you’ll find them at the closest bar asking themselves why they agreed to such a request.

  109. Twetjob
    26 Apr 12
    11:32 am

  110. Hinchinbrook Island – now that is an island and at this time of year it is not a cold island like Kangaroo, which would require a hat and scarf…

  111. KC
    26 Apr 12
    3:18 pm

  112. @facts yes they are writing about a ‘switch-off challenge’ but they are also required to mention Kangaroo Island in their post. If the posts aren’t suppose to be about KI then why are all the bloggers mentioning it in their posts?

  113. Jay De Leon
    26 Apr 12
    4:55 pm

  114. You only have to look at services like to see how shopping has evolved online. People following celebrities specifically to see what products they approve/endorse to purchase for themselves.

  115. Betty
    26 Apr 12
    6:33 pm

  116. It’s definitely misleading and deceptive conduct – the SATC should be ashamed..

    Its totally cash for comments and as someone who started their advertising career working on Telstra’s cash for comments, i know it when i see it.

    My first job my agency approached a wide range of Sydney celebs to get them to say positive things about Telstra and do it ‘organically’.

    Some people were offered cash (and large sums) whilst others were merely offered free phones and landline etc..

    Surprising how many well known and wealthy people still like a freebie

  117. talkingboonie
    26 Apr 12
    7:13 pm

  118. Meanwhile, P. Diddy just earned $560 million doing this and many other things. Has anyone actually looked at the stuff celebrities flog via social media lately?! If you’re after altruism then Twitter may not be the best use of your time; this pales in comparison to what I see on a daily basis…

  119. JoLo
    26 Apr 12
    10:50 pm

  120. It’s not the first time, just the first time he has been pulled up for it publicly. I recall Moran stating in a food magazine a year or two ago that he always puts xxxxxx brand of lolly snakes in his shopping basket because they ‘relax the kids.’ (No, not the ‘natural’ brand either.)

  121. Harry
    27 Apr 12
    12:12 pm

  122. I thought they said celebrities…… Shannon Noll??

  123. S
    27 Apr 12
    3:27 pm

  124. @Harry yes that’s like saying Peter Timbs of Big Brother somewhat fame is also someone worthy of deep and meangingful comments about the media too. Maybe they had to pay too much cashola for someone worthy of a comment….