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Papi/POTUS Stunt: Has Samsung Hit a Home Run or a Foul Ball?
By: Jeannine Wheeler
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You can’t perform a PR stunt at a much higher level than the White House. Just ask the brain boxes at Samsung, who sent their brand ambassador, Red Sox player David "Papi" Ortiz, to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue to rope President Obama into appearing in perhaps the "second most famous selfie" of the year (so far). Was it a grand slam or a cheap stunt?
 
Judging by TV commentators, social media, and the general public, it looks like Samsung may be far short of a home run over the PR stunt, although the whole world is indeed talking about Samsung’s phones today, and not Apple’s.
 
The White House said it was not amused.
 
The next day — perhaps after reading the tea leaves — the White House condemned the stunt: "As a rule, the White House objects to attempts to use the President's likeness for commercial purposes. And we certainly object in this case," said spokesman Jay Carney.
 
CBS’ Morning presenter Gayle King said Samsung is now "facing questions about its tactics.” She added, “I’m very disappointed in Poppy,” looking a bit like she had just swallowed a bug.
 
Said Bloomberg Businessweek reporter Joshua Green: “I am a diehard fan of the Boston Red Sox and David Ortiz and own a Samsung phone. But wow, is that tacky, Samsung!”
 
The American public didn’t much like it either. Mr_Gee wrote in comments below a Washington Post article: “Another low point in American culture. Now we’re using our President to tout Korean technology copied from Apple. Sheez…”
 
The stunt took place on April 2 when the President invited the 2013 World Series champs to the White House to laud their victory. Standing on the South Lawn, Ortiz presented Obama with a ‘44’ Red Sox jersey and whipped out his phone (a Samsung Galaxy Note 3) to shoot a selfie with POTUS, complete with other team members smiling broadly in the background (a la Samsung’s famed Oscar selfie in January).
 
Who knew (yes, who knew?) that it was all planned? The selfie quickly went viral after Ortiz posted in with the following on his Twitter account: “What an honor! Thanks for the #selfie, @BarackObama.”
 
Soon, the Poppy/POTUS selfie was careening around Twitter and the focus of ESPN sports chatter. What seemed genuine and spontaneous was soon discovered to be quite the opposite.
 
Soon, Samsung revealed on its own Twitter account (and The Boston Globe confirmed) that it was just indeed a planned PR stunt and part of an ad campaign.
 
In other words, a commercial. A commercial in which the President of the United States had unwittingly (as far as we know) participated, leaving more than a few feeling hoodwinked.
 
Samsung soon issued a statement, saying the incident was "an opportunity for David to share the incredible moment with his fans,” admitting that it has "worked with David and the team on how to share images with fans. We didn't know if or what he would be able to capture using his Note 3 device."
 
Will the audacious selfie keep anyone from purchasing a Samsung in the future? Doubt it.
 
Will it keep us all discussing the manufacturer for a few days? Indeed it has.
 
Will it increase Sansung’s visibility over Apple? Perhaps temporarily.
 
Will it besmirch our belief in the translucence of social media and advertising?
 
Come on, Dorothy. We’re not in Kansas anymore.


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About the Author
Jeannine Wheeler is a PR Director who has worked in three countries, including Russia, the US and the UK. She is currently Sr. Vice President of Pure Energy PR, a full-service boutique communications firm with a focus on the energy, healthcare, technology, construction, real estate & land development, tourism & hospitality and food & beverage industries. Jeannine is in the firm's Austin, Texas office.
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