Puffery Could Hurt South African Entertainment Industry

Puffery in the entertainment industry is as old as the industry itself — now we just call it flossing. With the popularity of social media, puffery has taken on a whole new form that could be counter productive to celebrities' brand growth. 

Advertisers have used puffery to try to persuade people to buy a product or service through various methods. A company may deliver an entertaining message about its product, compare the product to a similar item, list facts about the product, or make vague claims about the product which cannot be proved or disproved.

Artists have also employed the use of puffery in music videos and their promotional platforms to portray an aspirant brand image to their fan base. The magazine industry often relies on puffery to sell stories of celebrities. So, in essence puffery is one of the cornerstones of entertainment. 

With the South African entertainment industry having evolved in recent years to project an image of success that is based on wealth accumulation; we see it in celebrities tweeting about being millionaires and showing off their material accumulations, it has become important for our media  to keep the line between being accomplices to selling a false narrative about the industry and being an accurate mirror of our industry in check. 

In recent years we have seen popular celebrity teetering on crossing the line between puffery and out right lies in their methods to amp up their perceived success. But the trend, fuelled on by social media, has its pitfalls. In my opinion, there is a clear danger in a celebrity overselling their achievements and career success. 

Perhaps at this point let me revert back to what puffery is exactly so that you can understand why the over-use of the trend can be a danger. The simplest way to define it would be that it means exaggerating facts. The statement being made might not entirely be false (often because it can't be proved either way) but it would still be misleading. 

If a celebrity says he/she is the best in the game, that self praise may be subjective, but they are not really lies because no one can disprove them because to some people they may be the best.  

The problem arises when a celebrity says something that can be proven to be false. The intention or motive may be innocent and just puffery but being able to prove that what they are saying is false can put a dent on their credibility. For instance, when a celebrity says he/she is a global ambassador of a brand and that can be refuted by the brand or his/her contractual terms with that brand, that is a lie! 

If a celebrity were to say they own a car when in fact he/she is given the car by a brand to promote but the car still belongs to the brand, that is a lie even though the why he/she is saying that is just puffery. 

Our South African industry is unique in that while all entertainment industries around the world have an element of selling perception rather than reality, in SA that hyperbole has real life consequences. When our local celebrities over sell their success they put themselves in  position where their brand equity is not viable because they inadvertently loose credibility by lying. 

If a celebrity buys followers on social media and brands approach them to work on a campaign with the hope that their perceived influence, based on the number of followers they have, will result in more people getting to engage with the brand message and that does not happen — it hurts the industry and the potential for others to get similar opportunities. 

In a more serious light, the ugliness of puffery and false perceptions about the industry is often highlighted when a celebrity dies and we find out that there are no resources to give him a proper send-off because he/she was broke. The contradiction often pushes the narrative that being in the entertainment industry is not a 'real' career to have. 

Puffery works. A lot of people have built their careers on the public believing that their lives and careers are more than what they really are. Wise ones have in turn used that to actually make money to supplement that perceived fame and fortune.   With that, I do not see puffery going away nor do I expect it to. However, I think we have a responsibility to always call it out when the puffery crosses the line. Our media should not just jump on the band-wagon and punt falsehood just simply because it makes a celebrity look good and sell stories. 

For us to build an industry that is not just financially lucrative to a selected few but can provide opportunities for a lot more creatives to make a living off of their talents, we have to strike a balance between promotion and selling lies. We have a responsibility to tell the truth as often as we can so that those who look up to us and want to join our industry can know that there are opportunities to be very successful (yes rich) in this industry but not all that glitters is gold! 

By the way, I am the best entertainment commentator in South Africa. I'd like to see you try and disprove that :-)

Let's continue the conversation on Twitter. I'm @philmphela.

What is your thought? Do you think it is wrong for celebrities to spice up their success with some exagerration? Do you agree or disagree that relying too much on flossing/puffery could erode the credibility of the industry?

Do you care whether what the celebrity shares about their success is true or not or as long as it is inspiring you are ok with it?

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