Celebrities have more of an impact on us than you'd expect. Even those of us who are adamant about using common sense when buying things we don't need can find ourselves drawn to products when a celebrity is associated with them. It's so common that it has become a well-loved marketing technique for companies.
Unfortunately, it's being employed by both legitimate and illegitimate sellers – and the latter is costing Americans millions of dollars every year.
What Can We Do About Fake Endorsements?
What can we do about getting scammed by people using fake celebrity endorsements? It's not as simple as abandoning our pop icons or beloved idols.
Our innate love of celebrities is often out of our control. Those who claim not to care about celebrities still idealize someone and hope to follow in their footsteps. Psychologists have determined that our love of movie stars and other leaders comes from the innate need for humans to feel as though they contribute to something greater than themselves. Contributions to society, others, and self are what helps us separate from our sense of mortality. When we see a celebrity doing these things, and when we associate ourselves with that celebrity, we feel as though we are contributing to something larger than ourselves – even if we are living vicariously through our favorite figureheads.
So-called celebrity worship, in that vein, is entirely natural. It is something our brains can't stop doing. Before celebrities existed in the magnitude that has been made possible by radio, television, the internet, and smart devices, we still managed to idolize people we didn't know in the same way we do for celebrities. From a consumerism and marketing standpoint, it would be a wasted opportunity not to use our love of celebrities to sell products.
Dr. Oz Condemns Fake Endorsements
Perhaps you've seen spammy ads in your junk mail inbox with titles like "MIRACLE CURE FOR DIABETES" or "LOSE 50 POUNDS IN ONE WEEK". Most of us don't pay any attention to the information in these emails, and they go permanently into our trash can. Part of the reason we have no problem doing that without thinking about it is because of the context through which the information is provided to us. An email that gets sent to our spam inbox, according to our brain, is automatically fishy.
It becomes harder for some people to differentiate between truthful and harmful ads when they are out of the context of the spam box, however. The way that internet cookies and site tracking devices work has made it increasingly harder to differentiate between good and bad ads. It is possible to receive ads on completely legitimate sites (like your local news station) that are spammy, false, and misleading. Typically, it is not the fault of the website on which those advertisements pop up. However, the inability to lay blame on a website makes it much harder to shut down false endorsements and fake products.
Dr. Oz is no stranger to counterfeit endorsements, although he is taking a firm stance against them. In a recent interview, Dr. Oz recalled a time when he didn't have to worry about his likeness being used to promote "Snake-oil" cures and potentially dangerous products. He said of the matter, "It started when I was on The Oprah Winfrey Show. We're now sending out around 3,000 cease and desist letters every year."
Today, you can see celebrity physicians like Dr. Oz being used to promote dozens of unverified or downright dangerous products. Products like a "miracle cure for diabetes," which contain a photoshopped picture of Dr. Oz, lead potential consumers to the hazardous conclusion that the doctor promotes taking this cure over regular diabetes maintenance medication. Unfortunately, this can lead to diabetes patients' deaths. Despite Dr. Oz sending out thousands of letters of action against false endorsements like these, they continue.
A particularly hard false endorsement to combat (and one we see more of every day) is CBD oil. Many people now take the supplement and claim to see its benefits, which leads to word of mouth recommendations. CBD Oil is taking off in popularity due to the widespread legalization of cannabis. With cannabis legalization, entrepreneurs are taking advantage of all parts of the plant. Cannabidiol Oil, or CBD, is easily the most popular byproduct of the plant. Recent polls suggest that CBD sales will grow by 107% over the next three years. Any advertiser or entrepreneur would tell you that growth is based on an increased interest in a product. However, past the initial excitement of a new product on the market, entrepreneurs must engage in advertising tactics to keep up the attention.
Legitimate CBD oil companies are doing this well. They explain the purported benefits of the oil, use client testimonials, and engage with customers to truly understand their target audience. The problem with recent advertisements, however, has been less-than-scrupulous companies using celebrity "testimonials" to sell their products.
Learning to Differentiate Real Endorsements from Fake Ones
Dr. Oz is at the forefront of ensuring people no longer get scammed by false endorsements on products. Each year, false endorsements cost investors and consumers alike millions of dollars, and the Federal Trade Commission has a hard time keeping up with the staggering victims of companies who aren't who they claim to be. That's where celebrities, who are also victims of false advertising, can help. To avoid being scammed, Dr. Oz. suggests paying attention to the following when surfing the web.
1) Look for obviously photoshopped or altered photos.
The ability to spot a fake photo is a skill, but it's one that most people can easily teach themselves. Dr. Oz recommends that people first and foremost determine whether a celebrity is holding a product or sitting next to it. If a celebrity is sitting next to a product, and you haven't heard it straight from their mouths that they endorse that product, you should consider that a fake product and steer clear of it.
However, this is not the only way you should determine whether a product is a real endorsement, as it is also possible to photoshop a celebrity's face onto another person's body. Use other precautions, like the ones below, when it comes to verifying the authenticity of a product.
2) If looking for a product, only follow celebrity endorsements if the products are available on a celebrity's official website.
If you are determined to purchase a product that you've seen celebrity endorsements for, an excellent way to verify whether the endorsement is real is by signing up through a celebrity's website, magazine, or otherwise. For instance, Oprah Winfrey is a partner in Weight Watchers and often has ads in O magazine for the diet. On Dr. Oz's website, he endorses lifestyle books in his "books" tab, and all books he recommends have an "Oz Pick" designation on them.
3) Avoid buying from unverified news sites.
An unfortunate scam advertisement tactic is advertising products using a newsroom-like setting. This can lead unwitting customers to believe that their local news (or, someone's local news) is verifying a product. Consumers can avoid being duped by fake news reports by doing a little bit of research. Verify that the "news channel" and its reporters are a real channel. Additionally, check the web address before purchasing anything from the site. If your gut feeling tells you that this might be a scam, you should listen to your gut.
4) Wait to buy health-related products until you check with your physician.
Celebrity doctors like Dr. Oz understand the body, including illnesses and disorders, which might prevent the body from working correctly. However, all bodies are different – including yours. Celebrity doctors will never know for sure whether a product is right for you, even if they endorse a product. This is why it is essential always to get the go-ahead for supplements, individual physical activity, and medical-grade products from your physician.
To reiterate – even if you're 100% Dr. Oz supports a supplement, you should wait to buy it until you check with your doctor. What's right for someone else might not always be right for you, and it would be a shame to waste your money or put yourself in harm's way because of a product.
5) Look for an ad designation.
When we get down to brass tacks, a celebrity endorsement is an advertisement.
For an advertisement to be legally run as such, it must say somewhere that it is an advertisement. It's likely if you've stayed up too late watching a local television station, you've run into an hour-long paid programming segment. These segments always begin with a disclaimer akin to "This is a paid advertisement." The same goes for political campaigns, as well as anything curated or endorsed by a celebrity. If you run into an ad campaign without a disclaimer, you should steer clear of the product being offered.
6) Re-evaluate your relationship with celebrities.
When it comes to "celebrity worship," as we mentioned earlier, it is fine to have an attachment to a celebrity. Perhaps you watch their shows, follow their advice, and maybe even agree with them on their politics or personal beliefs. However, re-evaluating your relationship with a celebrity every once and awhile is a healthy thing to do. It prevents you from changing your personality because of a star, or even physically or financially harming yourself to live up to unrealistic expectations.
Of course, Dr. Oz wants what is best for the people who watch his shows or follow him on social media. But if you like Dr. Oz so much that you'd be willing to pay hundreds or thousands of dollars for a "miracle cure" he endorsed, your relationship with him might not be healthy.
Your best bet when it comes to celebrity endorsements – especially ones that deal with your health? Don't consider them. Hearing Dr. Oz personally talk about the benefits of regular exercise and a proper nutritious diet is more beneficial than throwing money at a supplement that claims to have his endorsement.