First it was Ellen DeGeneres and the star-studded Samsung-sponsored product placement at last month's Oscars. And now Samsung is back in the spotlight enjoying even more wonderful, free publicity. This time it wasn't movie stars but Red Sox legend David Ortiz and President Obama who were involved in a high-profile selfie, and the White House in not happy with what Samsung did to leverage the event.
It all started innocently enough when Mr. Ortiz and Obama leaned in for a photo that Ortiz wanted to take with his Samsung phone. Mr. Ortiz is a paid endorser for the brand, so it is difficult to imagine him using any other phone, so the likelihood that this was all a Samsung-planned product placement is very, very slim. But there is little doubt the Ortiz thought that such an act might bring him added goodwill with his corporate partner. Either way, it happened.
The problem is that Samsung, never one to waste a good opportunity, immediately Tweeted the photo to, well, everyone. It didn't require any planning, just a rapid response by a savvy marketer. How hard is it to Tweet something? Nevertheless, this is considered a marketing activity, and as such, Mr. Obama would have to give his permission to a marketer to use his likeness in an attempt to market a good or service. Since he did not do so, and probably should not do so in his capacity as President of the United States, Samsung should not have done the deed.
But as they say, sometimes it is easier to ask for forgiveness than it is to ask for permission. Samsung will likely apologize and should suffer no consequences other than a promise never to do such a thing again. Think of all the free publicity that the entire act, however unintentional on the part of Mr. Ortiz or reactionary on the part of Samsung, has generated for the brand. But if this had happened to Mr. Ortiz (as an unpaid endorser), he would rightly complain that he was not paid for any endorsement and would demand restitution. Can the President do this too? Unlikely. And until there is legislation enacted that levies fines and other punishment for unauthorized use of the likeness, there is little doubt that other brands will consider taking similar risks.