Big Papi-Obama Selfie: An Unexpected Marketing and PR Collision

By | April 3, 2014


The 2013 World Champion Red Sox visit to the White House this week created an unexpected PR kerfuffle, when the Red Sox’ Big Papi took a selfie with President Obama using his Samsung Galaxy 3.  What at first glance appeared to be an in the moment inspiration, turned out to be a calculated marketing play by the smartphone manufacturer, Samsung.  As soon as Big Papi tweeted the picture, Samsung immediately posted it to their U.S. twitter account.  

The picture achieved its immediate objective, with over 40,000 retweets and Samsung exposing it to their 7.5 million followers.  Mission accomplished.

Aahh but not so fast!  What initially appeared to be a spontaneous act turned out to be a calculated marketing move.  Consider the circumstances.  Who on the Red Sox has a big enough personality that will not only draw the public, but could get the President to agree to the selfie on the spot?  Only Big Papi has that kind of pull.  At first Big Papi claimed it was unplanned.

“That was one of those things that just happened,” Ortiz told the Boston Globe. “I gave him the jersey, and the photographers were going to take their pictures and I thought, really at the last second, maybe I should snap a shot with my phone while I have the chance. It had nothing to do with no deals.”

This incident comes on the heels of the selfie Ellen DeGeneres took at this year’s Oscars Ceremony.  This is probably the seminal example of using a celebrity event to expose a brand through social media.  Again, Samsung was behind it.   But what is interesting is the shift I see in reaction to the Big Papi-Obama selfie.  My feeling, and much of the coverage of the Oscar tweet, was that it was clever marketing.  Tip of the hat to you Samsung.   But this time the reaction hasn’t been quite so nice.  Stories taking Samsung and Big Papi to task about their authenticity and transparency about their relationship and intentions, including The Huffington Post and hometown newspaper, The Boston Globe.

So what to make of all of this?  Clearly celebrity product placement and leveraging social media can yield great results in terms of exposure.  But at what cost?   It raises the question is all PR good PR?  It seems we’re seeing a shift as consumers become more sophisticated social media users.  We know advertising when we see it.  But this kind of activity blurs the lines between what is genuine and what is calculated and people can take exception to that.

From a strategic communications perspective you need to consider all the potential ramifications, including the potentially negative ones. In this particular situation it feels as though Ortiz and Samsung were not on the same page about how to explain how the selfie came about and their relationship.  It moved from a fun/cool subliminal exposure of Samsung’s Galaxy 3 to a thinly veiled, calculated marketing tactic that turned some off.  This should be a lesson about marketing and PR being on the same page at all times.  Set your objectives, agree to a strategy, have clarity of message and be prepared for the potential downside as well as the expected upside of any social campaign.

Bill McLaughlin (77 Posts)

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