On the surface level, there seems nothing harmful about selfies. At their worst, they're an annoying pop culture trend based on intentionally choreographed photos that speak to the self-indulgent nature of the person taking them. At their best, they boost your self esteem as more and more people like a near-flawless photo of you. All harmless fun, right?
Not always. This week, while at the White House, Red Sox hitter David Ortiz took a selfie with President Obama and posted it on Twitter:
At first, it seemed like just a cute celebrity encounter that played off the selfie trends. It made fans feel connected with Big Papi because, hey, they take selfies too ... so why not retweet them? Ortiz's tweet started going viral.
Then, Samsung jumped in. Ortiz had taken the selfie with a Galaxy, and any brand worth its salt would want to promote that content on their own channel, too. Samsung even decided to amplify the tweet with some paid promotion of its own:
All fun and games, right? This must have been just a great, big ol' coincidence.
Not quite. Soon after Ortiz's selfie began trending on Twitter, it was revealed the he recently inked a deal as a spokesperson for Samsung. Despite Samsung denying that this was an orchestrated event, Big Papi himself was recorded saying "cha-ching" in an on-camera interview. The White House apparently wasn't in on the deal and is pretty upset in being involved in the whole event.
Though there has been lots of outrage over the whole ordeal, this isn't the first time that Samsung's planted a Galaxy in the hand of a celebrity to make a selfie go viral. Remember Ellen Degeneres' star-studded selfie that was so popular it broke Twitter a few months ago?
It became the most retweeted tweet of all time. And Samsung was behind it.
Smart marketing that just happens to blur the boundaries between paid, earned, and owned media? Or just an opportunistic brand looking to trick young fans into making the switch from iPhone to Galaxy?
(We've reached out to them to comment on this all. We'll update the post if they respond.)
Pushing the Ethical Boundaries of Marketing
Marketing already has a lovability problem -- publicity stunts like these exacerbate that problem. Though there’s been no legal action taken against Samsung for this tweet, they put a really bad taste in people’s mouths. Something that seems spontaneous and genuine suddenly became one more thing that brands have ruined.
In both Ellen and Big Papi’s stunts, relationships weren’t disclosed until after the fact. Sure, Samsung was open with their partnerships after the tweets had been posted and were already going viral -- they even added fuel to the fire with paid promotions. But the people who were retweeting and sharing the original "organic" posts had no idea this was a paid endorsement.
And the paid endorsement territory is where things get tricky. Celebrities have been touting products and services they’ve signed with for years. Product placements support the entertainment industry. But how this was promoted is where the line gets blurry -- the FTC also has pretty strict rules on disclosing endorsements, even on social media.
Really, as a random consumer, this whole situation feels really really icky. Selfies aren’t a sacred medium that brands shouldn't use in marketing … but if brands are hopping on a trend and intentionally duping fans and followers to think that signed partners are organically snapping selfies, it becomes really unlovable.
Like with any other media form, we’ve got to use our powers for good instead of cutting corners to benefit our bottom line because pretty soon we’ll discover we’ve destroyed our brand’s trust and customer loyalty. And that’ll be something that takes years and years to repair -- if you can even repair it at all.
What do you think of Samsung's stunt? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.