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.”