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Crossing the Blurry Line of Product Placement: Samsung and the Oscars

Last night, Academy Awards ceremony host Ellen DeGeneres scored a win for herself with the selfie tweeted round the world. The photo–which featured movie stars Bradley Cooper, Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie, Kevin Spacey, Lupita Nyong’o, Meryl Streep, Jennifer Lawrence and Julia Roberts–was snapped on a Samsung Galaxy Note 3. Ellen encouraged the Academy Awards audience to share the image and help it break the record for most retweets on Twitter. ellen-oscar-selfie

But Ellen’s request was more than a good-natured play for laughs: it was just one of her several less-than-subtle attempts to hawk products for Samsung. The electronics company was a sponsor of ABC’s “The Oscars Backstage” and, along with Ellen’s blurry monologue selfie, commercials for Samsung were aired throughout the broadcast.

Product placement during live television events is increasingly common, as is using social media as a way to break the fourth wall and engage audience members.  But what makes Ellen’s Samsung hard sell a little suspect is her own choice of device backstage:


Despite Ellen’s behind-the-scenes slip-up, Samsung got the positive exposure it paid for. It proves, however, that partnerships like these require the kind of coordination and finesse of a social media and content marketing team that can think on the fly. What lessons can brands learn from last night’s selfie sessions?

Engagement first, content a close second

Ellen’s blurry monologue selfie might have been a lark, but it was still a calculated move to feature Samsung’s product. What made that first tweet popular was the acknowledgment that its execution was less than perfect. Creating and sharing content in real time doesn’t always work, and it’s best to acknowledge that reality when things don’t go as planned. Getting people talking about content can be just as valuable as the content they’re talking about. A word of caution: feigning fumbles on social media doesn’t always work, so be careful when trying to be “real.”

Social media coordination is important

For all the resources Samsung poured into the ceremony broadcast, the company didn’t pay a lot of attention to real-time Twitter engagement. Its SamsungMobileUS Twitter account barely tweeted about the Oscars; the account RT’d Ellen’s group selfies, but spent the majority of the broadcast tweeting links to its commercials and engaging other Twitter users with customer service inquiries. With Ellen using a mobile product, devoting the company’s mobile U.S. Twitter account to the broadcast seems like a no-brainer.  Samsung squandered an opportunity to engage current Samsung users and attract potential customers on Twitter.

Clear, identifiable goals steer strategy

Ellen’s star-studded selfie currently clocks in at 2.6 million retweets, making it the most retweeted image on Twitter. But how does this explicitly help Samsung? Is there a tangible benefit to be gained by the company? Ellen, the Oscars ceremony and her photo costars are getting a lot of media coverage, but Samsung’s role in the photo isn’t front and center. Hawking products during live events can sometimes come off as unseemly, but doing it successfully requires commitment. A simple mention of Samsung in the tweet could have raised the company’s profile.

This year’s Oscars ceremony gave viewers plenty of drama and laughs, both onstage and off. And Ellen’s use of Samsung’s Galaxy Note 3 throughout the broadcast didn’t go unnoticed. But brands hoping to attempt product placement during live events might want to view last night’s show as a lesson in how challenging the medium can be.

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