A clever sting operation aimed at exposing the grubby world of celebrity endorsement for the Channel 4 Dispatches programme scored a bullseye recently, persuading a bunch of bit players from the TV soap Coronation Street to plug fake products to their fan base on social networking sites in exchange for free samples.

The actors were unaware that the products, which included “anti-ageing skin toner using water from a mountain well in Bali” and an “energising bracelet blessed by Buddhist monks” were fake, though any with a grasp of European languages might have spotted that the name of the company giving them the freebies for the plugs on Twitter, “Puttana Aziendale” was Italian for corporate whore. Advertising Standards Authority guidelines for products plugged for payment on social networking sites state that they should not misleadingly masquerade as honest endorsements, these days a contradiction in terms perhaps, but should be flagged as advertising.

The sting has also prompted some wider exposure of celebrities who raise suspicions of payment for their services by singing the praises of products to their fan bases, including footballers such as Wayne Rooney (golf products) and his wife Coleen (blankets and jewellery), singer Rita Ora (clothes), singer Lily Allen (hair products) and Olympic swimmer Rebecca Adlington (food).

These and others were featured in a follow-up to the above in the Sun newspaper of July 4th, where the editorial team rightly pointed out the dangers of image tarnish by being caught presenting advertising as impartial endorsement, an aspect the Sun team might want to look at in their Sun of June 15th where their food columnist Alex James, also available on Twitter, was allowed by the Sun editor to run an obvious advertisement presented as editorial for one of his own food products.

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