By: Kayla Gordon
What happens when an individual’s curated self, with upward of 20 million Twitter followers, becomes an ethical dilemma? NBA All-Star LeBron James has been widely criticized in recent years for his endorsements of unhealthy brands like Coca-Cola and McDonald’s. James is not alone in his endorsement of junk food. Many high-profile athletes represent brands that nutritionists warn against eating. Endorsements are not inherently bad; however, ethical problems arise when endorsements do not match personal opinion. Serena Williams earned $11 million in 2014 to endorse brands like Gatorade and PepsiCo but touts a healthy raw food diet. The stories that health magazine authors write about Williams’ healthy habits contrast sharply with her endorsement of Oreos.
Studies show that junk food endorsements by famous athletes are harmful to children’s eating habits. Does this fact make the endorsements unethical? The Word of Mouth Marketing Association Code of Ethics bases its guidelines on three key principles: honesty of relationship, honesty of opinion and honesty of identity. WOMMA states that a communicator should “say what you believe.” Although LeBron James is not a public relations professional, he is constantly speaking to the media and promoting his personal brand.
James is a prominent face of McDonald’s but tripped up earlier this year with a statement to the media implying that he doesn’t eat its food. Later, he backpedaled and jokingly told the media that he eats McDonald’s every day. Recently, Kelli Matthews advised that strategic communicators do a “gut check” when concerned about the ethicality of a campaign. She said, “Ask yourself, would I be comfortable if my friends or family were involved in this campaign?”
I wonder how LeBron James and his wife, who just opened an organic juice bar in Miami, would feel about their three kids eating McDonald’s “every day.”
What do you think: Are athlete junk food endorsements unethical?