Get All Access for $5/mo

Put Authenticity Into Your Celebrity Endorsements Just what did LeBron James mean by saying he eats McDonald's "every day"?

By David Hagenbuch Edited by Dan Bova

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

When it comes to exposing contradictions, video is vigilant -- just ask Brian Williams. There's one arena, however, in which video's policing power appears less potent: advertising endorsement -- just ask LeBron James.

Related: How Creative Thinking Can Nab a Coveted Celeb Endorsement

The NBA superstar and prolific promoter made headlines with an interview he gave at a recent Cleveland Cavaliers shoot-around. Asked how his training regimen had changed since starting his professional basketball career over a decade ago, James suggested that unlike today, taking care of his body back then "didn't matter."

More specifically, he described how, in the early years, he "didn't stretch" and "didn't ice." He added how he "ate McDonald's" -- hardly a flattering comment, given that James has a sponsorship deal with the fast food behemoth worth a reported $4 million a year.

Reporters assisted "The King" in realizing that he had Egg McMuffin on his face, asking him how often he eats at McDonald's now. James quickly rebounded, smiling slyly and replying repeatedly "every day," which led those listening to burst into laughter.

Despite his lucrative endorsement deal, it's not surprising that James doesn't eat McDonald's food, at least not with any regularity. Clearly, he realized that a diet inclusive of Quarter-Pounders with cheese, McNuggets and fries would sideline his recent plan to slim-down to top playing condition. So he relocated his meal plan away from the Golden Arches, even as his endorsement deal played on.

Why didn't James's change in consumption cause him to give up his McDonald's sponsorship? Or, perhaps more important: Why do people frown on similar acts of duplicity by their peers but think it's fine for a celebrity endorser to earn millions claiming to do something he/she doesn't?

Related: Want a Celebrity Endorsement on Twitter? 3 Legal Precautions to Know.

Others lose their credibility and/or jobs for such breaches of integrity. Do ad spokespeople deserve a double standard?

The short answer is "no." Truth should be truth and reflect a person's word, no matter what the context. Endorsement creates no compelling reason for a pass on honesty. In fact, given the reach and impact of advertising, spokespeople should be all the more sensitive to the integrity inherent in what they -- as role models -- represent.

For instance, not everyone sees the disconnect between a diet heavy in fast food and strong athletic performance, or, more simply, a healthy lifestyle. So, when some consumers believe that a favorite athlete frequents fast food restaurants without experiencing any ill effects, they may think they can do the same. And that's just wrong.

Besides the negative societal impact that disingenuous endorsement creates, there's the likely fallout on the sponsoring brand. McDonald's, for example, will probably take a hit from James' misstep. Similarly, the brand that is LeBron will also suffer at least some loss of credibility, with consumers and potential sponsors alike.

In contrast, consider another basketball star, Kevin Durant. This NBA player offers an example of sponsorship anchored in honesty: Last summer, Durant signed a deal to endorse Sparkling Ice, a zero-calorie carbonated water that comes in a variety of fruit flavors. Sparkling Ice wasn't even looking for celebrity endorsers when Durant, a loyal Sparkling Ice user in real life, approached the company to inquire about a possible partnership. Kevin Klock, CEO of the brand's parent company, Talking Rain, immediately knew they had what they wanted in a sponsorship relationship: "authenticity."

And authenticity counts. It's good that people are finally being held responsible for words and actions that contradict. It's good that we have the tools: Smartphone video cameras and instant Internet uploads make it easier than ever to spot inconsistencies.

The same accountability should apply to advertising endorsers; it's only a matter of time until it will. Moving forward, companies must increasingly ensure endorsement that's authentic.

Related: 3 Ways to Spark Celebrity Buzz Around Your Product

David Hagenbuch

Professor of Marketing at Messiah College and Founder of

David Hagenbuch is a professor of marketing at Messiah College in Mechanicsburg, Pa. He is also the founder of

Want to be an Entrepreneur Leadership Network contributor? Apply now to join.

Editor's Pick

Growing a Business

He Immigrated to the U.S. and Got a Job at McDonald's — Then His Aversion to Being 'Too Comfortable' Led to a Fast-Growing Company That's Hard to Miss

Voyo Popovic launched his moving and storage company in 2018 — and he's been innovating in the industry ever since.


ChatGPT is Becoming More Human-Like. Here's How The Tool is Getting Smarter at Replicating Your Voice, Brand and Personality.

AI can be instrumental in building your brand and boosting awareness, but the right approach is critical. A custom GPT delivers tailored collateral based on your ethos, personality and unique positioning factors.

Business Ideas

63 Small Business Ideas to Start in 2024

We put together a list of the best, most profitable small business ideas for entrepreneurs to pursue in 2024.

Business News

Is the AI Industry Consolidating? Hugging Face CEO Says More AI Entrepreneurs Are Looking to Be Acquired

Clément Delangue, the CEO of Hugging Face, a $4.5 billion startup, says he gets at least 10 acquisition requests a week and it's "increased quite a lot."

Business News

Apple Reportedly Isn't Paying OpenAI to Use ChatGPT in iPhones

The next big iPhone update brings ChatGPT directly to Apple devices.

Business News

You Can Now Apply to Renew Your U.S. Passport Online — But There's a Catch

The U.S. State Department officially launched the beta program this week.