The Ethics of Celebrity-Athlete Endorsement: What Happens When a Star Steps Out of Bounds?

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World Advertising Research Center

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Journal of Advertising Research

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Celebrity athletes are a mainstay of popular culture and an increasingly important part of the marketing ecosystem. As product endorsers, they can influence brand attitudes and sales but also have broader societal implications for the firm. The recent string of bad behavior by celebrity athletes raises important ethical questions about firms that use the famous and infamous to endorse branded products. The conceptual framework presented in the current study provides a theoretical approach – based on virtue ethics – for evaluating the retention of tainted celebrity affiliates. This framework is applied to three well-known situations to examine the ethical implications of what initially were good choices for firms, their brands, and their consumers. The overarching goal of this article is to stimulate managers to think more deeply about the interconnections between their core company values, the athlete endorsers they select, and the ultimate effect of those decisions on their brands in the marketplace if things go wrong.


Journal of Advertising Research, Vol. 51, No. 3 (September 2011): 499-510. DOI.