Last night the ABC’s Media Watch spilled the beans on South Australia Tourism paying celebrities to tweet their approval of Kangaroo Island, running in parallel with a poignant advertising campaign.

Celebrity chef Matt Moran, singer Shannon Noll and TV presenter Sophie Faulker were reportedly paid $750 per tweet to spruik the holiday destination. Advertising firm KWP, responsible for connecting SA Tourism with the celebrity tweeters, stressed they “didn’t want the tweet to appear endorsed, rather an organic mention” injected with the celebrity’s “own personality”.


Celebrity tweeting is fast becoming one of the most valuable commodities on the internet. While the practice is only just finding its feet in Australia, in America sponsored tweets are at the frontier of new advertising.

Companies like Adly and Sponsored Tweets match brands with tweeters based on specifications including maximum cost-per-tweet, minimum followers, location and audience demographic. Advertisers can pick from hundreds of actors, sportspeople, comedians, authors and other celebrities to best reach a target audience.

Adly CEO Arnie Gullov-Singh says the appeal of social media for advertisers are the tangible measures of scale and measurability. He told The Wall Street Journal:

“From the brand side we’re saying, don’t pick one celebrity, pick 10. Don’t start off with $2 million, start with $50,000 or $100,000. Don’t run a campaign for six to 12 months; run it for 1 to 60 days. At the simplest level, we’re reducing that risk for both parties.”

But celebrity tweets don’t come cheap. Sponsored Tweets has a full list of its celebrity tweeters and their “cost per tweet”, which makes SA Tourism look like it was giving its tweeters their weekly pocket money. You might want to sit down for this …

Khloe Kardashian charges $US9100 per endorsed tweet to her 14.5 million Twitter followers; Jersey Shore‘s Snooki $US7800; and Harry Potter actor Tom Felton, who plays Draco Malfoy, earns a respectable $US5850. Even TV chef Jamie Oliver is in on the party, with an asking price of $3250 per tweet.

To break that down: at $9100 for each tweet, which is limited to 140 characters, Khloe Kardashian is earning $65 per letter. And it doesn’t stop there — some A-listers like Kim Kardashian and Paris Hilton don’t disclose their price-per-tweet, hinting that their fee is even higher. The undisputed king of all twits is Charlie Sheen, who is reported to have earned over $100,000 per tweet during the peak of his post-Two And A Half Men meltdown.

So do celebrities have to disclose the source of their “organic-sounding” endorsements?

In 2009 the American Federal Trade Commission amended its advertising standards to cover testimonials and endorsements by celebrities on social media. “Celebrities have a duty to disclose their relationships with advertisers when making endorsements outside the context of traditional ads, such as on talk shows or in social media,” the revisions stated.

Agencies like Sponsored Tweets force all tweeters to adhere to a 100% disclosure policy outlined on their website. However, the most common disclaimer is quite simple: the inclusion of the hashtag “#ad” in the tweet. Three little characters that might easily be overlooked by an avid fan.

In England the debate has flared up recently when the Office of Fair Trading warned Olympic athletes to declare their affiliations to brands on their social networking sites. “Online advertising and marketing practices that do not disclose they include paid for promotions are deceptive under trading laws,” an OFT representative said.

As Media Watch pointed out, SA Tourism decided no such disclosure was necessary.

Josh Richards — managing partner at Switch Digital, which also organises Twitter advertising — says part of what his company does is activate brands on social media using the digital footprints of celebrities.

When quizzed about disclosure laws in Australia, Richards wasn’t able to tell us what the exact laws were. On the argument for complete disclosure, he told Crikey: “It has come up, and to be honest I don’t really agree … I think people are smart enough to understand advertising. People aren’t stupid.”

But the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission issued a statement to Crikey, making it clear they want brand disclosure:

“Endorsement of certain products, services and industries by eminent people is a common advertising method. However, consumers may be led to believe that such endorsements have been provided based on that person’s own analysis of the product or service, rather than under a commercial agreement. This is particularly important where the presenter’s position, representation or status suggests that they can be relied on to have special knowledge about the products or services. As with infomercials, advertisers should take care to ensure that consumers are aware of the fact that a commercial message is being presented.”

With recent Nielsen polling showing 92% of consumers felt “word of mouth/recommendation” was the most trusted form of advertising, the market for Twitter endorsements will no doubt grow exponentially. For the moment, it’s up to us to determine whether what we see in our Twitter news feeds is advertising or simply a genuine plug.

But we hear Kangaroo Island is beautiful this time of year …

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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