Ad industry tongues are wagging over the much-anticipated TV commercial and live webcast featuring NASCAR racer Tony Stewart. Stewart signed a lucrative contract endorsing Burger King earlier this year. On Oct 20 he will take a live polygraph test to prove that his mouth truly is where the money is – that he likes and eats Burger King hamburgers. http://tinyurl.com/nfb9qj
The ramifications of this campaign run far beyond the already-shaky credibility of celebrity endorsements. It makes me think about the super model we media trained who was endorsing a garden-variety department store cosmetic. Did anybody really think she really used that brand when walking down the runway or appearing in other product ads? Did anybody even ask her, much less suggest she take a lie-detector test?
Even if an incident is circumstantial, it could give a spokesperson’s reputation a big hit. (Imagine if a hungry Stewart were caught on a post-polygraph video clip grabbing, say, a McDonald’s burger at the racetrack because a friend picked one up and passed it to him.)
For professional communicators in PR, public affairs, and corporate communications, the notion of a public campaign like Burger King’s built around “proving” authenticity is a sobering precedent. Though one innovative ad campaign certainly does not a trend make, how far-fetched is it to imagine a day when such “proofs” become de rigeur in product advertising? Then, could we see polygraphs or other litmus tests in the broader communications arena – for political ads, advocacy campaigns including attack ads, or any public statements by senior executives and officials?
OK, maybe that’s a stretch. But on the other hand, the broad media industry has been known for seizing on trends that capture the public’s imagination. The implications for reputation management could be enormous. What do you think? Is this a one-time gimmick? Or is it potentially a first step down a new road of high-profile executive and celebrity accountability, even if the initial Burger King foray is just for publicity?
For us, the bottom line for communicators is this: truth, transparency, and consistency of messaging and branding have never been more important to reputation than today.