In the brave new world of viral advertising, Samsung’s quick promotion of the self-portrait that Red Sox slugger David Ortiz took with President Obama using one of the company’s devices may have been brilliant. But in using the White House and the presidency as the backdrop for a marketing ploy, it was also incredibly crass. Samsung seems to have escaped a serious backlash this time, but companies should think twice before using national political institutions for advertising.
Ortiz, who has a deal with Samsung to carry the company’s phone, visited the White House on Tuesday with the team to celebrate its World Series victory last year, and snapped the photo after presenting Obama with a team jersey. Soon, the image raced across the Internet, boosted by Samsung’s promotions. “It was an honor to help [Ortiz] capture such an incredible and genuine moment of joy and excitement,” the company said.
Samsung has been battling Apple for market share, and may consider all fair in war and advertising. Earlier this year, the company scored a coup when one of its phones was used to capture Ellen DeGeneres’s famous selfie at the Oscars — another photo the company promoted. But its marketing needs to recognize the difference between a stage in Hollywood and Washington. Presidents of both parties have maintained the White House as a commercial-free zone, and companies should respect that rule, too.