Samsung may be learning a lesson this week that most of us observed by watching Mr. Smith a long time ago: What flies in Hollywood doesn’t having any relation to the real politick of Washington, D.C. And so it is that headlines are calling out both Samsung and Boston Red Sox slugger David Ortiz for “punking” the President with a moment reminiscent of Ellen DeGeneres’ selfie-fulfilling prophecy at the Oscars that did, indeed, set a record for the most retweets.
Ortiz’ selfie with President Barack Obama at a White House ceremony honoring last year’s Major League Baseball champions on Tuesday was initially seen as “Big Papi” being “Big Papi.”
“What seemed like a spontaneous moment on the South Portico at the White House was soon distributed by Samsung to its millions of Twitter followers,” report Carol E. Lee and Suzanne Vranica in the Wall Street Journal.
“It indeed had seemed genuine and spontaneous in the moment — exactly the sort of thing Ortiz would be inclined to do,” writes Sox’ “diehard fan” Joshua Green in Bloomberg Businessweek. “Then last night, Samsung revealed on Twitter (and the Boston Globe confirmed) that it was part of an ad campaign — basically a commercial.”
Yesterday, White House press secretary Jay Carney took umbrage: “As a rule the White House objects to attempts to use the president's likeness for commercial purposes,” he said. “And we certainly object in this case.”
Sports Business Daily’s Terry Lefton reported about Ortiz’ deal with Samsung on Monday.
“In keeping with the trend that sees social media rising in importance to brand marketers, Samsung wants Ortiz to be its MLB social media insider,” Lefton wrote. “So when the Red Sox visit the White House this week to commemorate their World Series victory, ‘Big Papi’ will be tweeting and sending photos on Samsung’s behalf.”
But Ortiz has denied that he was paid any money for the shot in question in language that might be appreciated by even the most astute purveyors of evasive statements. “It had nothing to do with no deals,” the slugger said in an interview with the Boston Globe’s Nick Cafardo yesterday.
Skeptical, Cafardo writes that “All I keep hearing is the ‘cha-ching’ yelled out by Jonny Gomes in the background as the selfie was taken.” But, as he points out, Ortiz told Boston.com’s Steve Silva “that it’s a term the players use in the clubhouse to signify, ‘Got it!’”
“I signed a deal with Samsung a couple of months ago and they supply me with phones and other stuff but the photo with the president was a one-time-in-life type of moment,” Ortiz told Silva. “I didn't know that he was going to let me take a picture with him.”
Well, as they say in the clubhouse, cha-ching. But not everyone is buying it.
In a piece for the Washington Post, Katie Zezima poses the questions of whether Samsung crossed an ethical line in the “raucous new world of social media and advertising [where] companies and their celebrity pitch people are doing all they can to stand out and create ads that are engaging enough to be shared widely via social media.”
Most of the folks Zezima talks to seem to think that they have gone too far. Notre Dame marketing professor Patrick Murphy tells Zezima that “unwittingly roping Obama into an advertisement is ‘not ethical’ — and also is a bad business strategy.
“I think there is cause for some ethical debate for things that occur with increasing frequency now that anybody with a cellphone and anybody with access to Twitter can seem to virtually put anything out there,” Murphy said.
“The incident is yet another example of the hidden social-media promotions that drive the Federal Trade Commission crazy,” writes Alison Griswold on Slate. “The regulator is fighting an ongoing battle against advertisers that produce what it considers ‘inauthentic content’ — namely, ads that don’t obviously look like ads. She cites the FTC’s “ding” of Cole Haan, as Adweek puts it, for its recent “Wandering Sole” promotion that was not adequately labeled as a contest.
But so far, the Ortiz selfie is apparently not moving the needle.
“YouGov BrandIndex, which tracks consumer perceptions of brands using online panels, said the latest selfie hasn't had any meaningful effect on Samsung's brand,” the i’s Lee and Vranica write — at least in the first 24 hours after the event.
But it has been retweeted upwards of 40,000 times by Ortiz own recounting yesterday. And we even spelled everybody’s name right, right?