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Ellen’s Oscar Selfie Was Part of a $20 Million Samsung Ad Buy With ABC

2014 Oscar selfie Ellen
@TheEllenShow, Twitter

Did you think that bit at the Oscars where host Ellen DeGeneres wandered into the audience to tweet a selfie with A-listers like Brad Pitt, Julia Roberts, Meryl Streep, Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper was a refreshing moment of spontaneity in an otherwise scripted affair? Wrong. The viral photo was actually part of a $20 million Samsung advertising campaign designed to promote the Galaxy Note 3, the phone that took the picture.

The Wall Street Journal reports that Samsung spent an estimated $20 million on their Oscar advertising campaign, including standard commercials that run during the show. But, Samsung also negotiated additional integration for their device, providing DeGeneres with the smartphone to use during the show as product placement. According to WSJ sources, “during rehearsals Samsung executives trained Ms. DeGeneres on how to use the Samsung Galaxy” for the selfie stunt.

Because most viewers use the Oscar commercial breaks to use the bathroom or get a snack during the lengthy broadcast, advertisers have been looking for creative ways to reach the audience. While product placement can be dicey – how do you do it without sounding like a crass pitch? – the Oscar selfie stunt worked to perfection.

Once posted online, the photo crashed Twitter and set a record for amount of retweets (currently over 3 million, close to double the previous record set by Barack Obama upon his re-election). That’s the kind of promotion a brand like Samsung couldn’t buy.

Samsung released a statement addressing the product placement:

While we were a sponsor of the Oscars and had an integration with ABC, we were delighted to see Ellen organically incorporate the device into the selfie moment that had everyone talking. A great surprise for everyone, she captured something that nobody expected.

They added that they would be donating $3 million to Ellen’s charities of choice – St. Jude’s and the Humane Society – a nice gesture, if not one that comes with a whiff of admission and guilt.

The photo, while massively successful beyond Samsung’s wildest dreams, wasn’t without a few hitches though. Many astute observers pointed out that while the photo was taken with the Samsung Galaxy, DeGeneres used her personal iPhone to post the photo to Twitter backstage. (As you might expect, Samsung refused to comment about DeGeneres’ iPhone usage.)

Also in question is who owns the rights to the photograph. Had DeGeneres take the photo herself, her contract would have stipulated that the rights would revert to the Academy. But, because Cooper took the photo, TMZ reports he now owns the rights to the photo, which includes rights usage and any future earnings. He could choose to exercise that right (and likely make a pretty penny), or sign the rights back to the Academy who would hold the copyright in perpetuity.

So, what do you think? Does it change your opinion about Ellen’s Oscar selfie and the ensuing viral insanity? Or is it all part of marketing and advertisement in the modern world?

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