Samsung’s Obama-Ortiz Selfie Doesn’t Deserve the Media Backlash

The Obama-Ortiz selfie caused quite a stir last week, but it doesn't deserve the media backlash it's received.

Apr 8, 2014 at 4:47PM

Samsung (NASDAQOTH:SSNLF) has ushered in a new era of social media marketing: the selfie. A strategy that first went viral after Ellen DeGeneres' Oscars moment, the company made headlines again last week when Boston Red Sox star David Ortiz snapped a photo with President Obama. Dubbed the Obama-Ortiz selfie, it has some critics, including my colleague Daniel Kline, up in arms.

A controversial kind of marketing
Ortiz's selfie is controversial for the same reason it's popular: It looked spontaneous. The slugger still maintains it was -- he told The Boston Globe last week that "it had nothing to do with" any sponsorship -- but the fact remains that Samsung hired Ortiz to be its "MLB social media insider" earlier this year, according to SportsBusiness Daily. He made over $4 million in endorsements last year while wearing baseball's most popular jersey, so the terms of his agreement, while undisclosed, probably aren't cheap.

Occurring while the Red Sox were visiting the White House, the moment was marketing gold for Samsung. After Ortiz tweeted the photo, the company retweeted it with the tag line, "Big Papi, Big Selfie." As you might expect, it ruffled some feathers. The president's senior advisor, Dan Pfeiffer, recently told CBS that Obama "didn't know anything" about Samsung's involvement.

The bigger issue
Ultimately, the company's strategy forces its customers, and all social media users, to decide what constitutes proper marketing etiquette. As The Boston Globe's Michael Farrell wrote, the selfie asks, "When is a social media moment also an advertising event?"

In my opinion, the answer is easy. Any time an athlete with a known history of sponsorships interacts with his followers, it should be taken with a grain of salt. It's naive to assume otherwise. Ortiz's own Twitter (NYSE:TWTR) account, for example, is filled with tweets that look like they were written by a PR firm.

One, last month, hypes bat manufacturer Marucci Sports. Ortiz is listed as a partner and a member of the company's Player Advisory Board on its website. Another clearly promotes a local Dunkin' Donuts franchise group,   while a third tells fans to watch "Off the Bat," a TV show from the MLB and MTV2.


David Ortiz on the left of marketing photo. Via @davidortiz, Twitter. 

Other promotional tweets, including a partnership with Pedigree, regularly pepper Ortiz's feed. 

Until the Federal Trade Commission gets its act together, though, I have a hard time seeing why the slugger's Samsung selfie was worse than any other celebrity endorsement. The government agency issued guidelines on tweets last year but hasn't adequately enforced them.

While broad, the FTC's focus is on ensuring that celebrities disclose which tweets are posted for promotional purposes. As CopyPressed's Amanda Dodge explains, "Now any paid endorsement must include two parts: 1. the statement that it's an advertisement and not an organic tweet, and 2. the acknowledgment that the product might not work exactly as the endorser promises."

The first step is easy enough. It simply asks the tweet to include a term like #ad or #spon (for sponsored). The second is less clear, but generally means, according to Dodge, that "adding words like "typically" or "about" prevents misleading statements." So are celebrities following the guidelines?

Some are, but many aren't. Here are just a couple examples:

Screen Shot

Justin Bieber, Twitter.

Screen Shot

Miley Cyrus, Twitter.

Originally found by Business Insider, Justin Bieber's tweet was rumored to be a potential promo for 1-800-Flowers when it was posted last year. The musician has his own floral collection on the retailer's website. BlackJet, on the other hand, which was the subject of Miley Cyrus's tweet, told the The New York Times that Cyrus "was given some consideration for her [post]."

And the examples don't stop there. According to the Huffington Post, everyone from Jared Leto to Tyrese have been connected with sponsored tweets.

The bottom line
At the end of the day, Samsung's strategy is clearly valuable. As Mr. Kline points out, the combo of Ortiz and Ellen DeGeneres' selfies netted the company close to $70 million in social media exposure.

It's arguable David Ortiz should have disclosed his arrangement with Samsung before snapping his selfie with President Obama, sure. It also would have been best if the tweet was marked with #ad. But does he deserve the media backlash he's been hit with? No, unless the numerous celebrities who came before him are subject to similar criticism, and many aren't.

If we lived in a world where the FTC regularly issued fines for misleading tweets, a case could be made that Ortiz and Samsung deserve punishment. But we don't. And frankly, when a Twitter feed is as PR-friendly as Ortiz's, users should've been skeptical to begin with.

The biggest thing to come out of Silicon Valley in years
If you thought the iPod, the iPhone, and the iPad were amazing, just wait until you see this. One hundred of Apple's top engineers are busy building one in a secret lab. And an ABI Research report predicts 485 million of them could be sold over the next decade. But you can invest in it right now... for just a fraction of the price of AAPL stock. Click here to get the full story in this eye-opening new report.

Jake Mann has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

1 Key Step to Get Rich

Our mission at The Motley Fool is to help the world invest better. Whether that’s helping people overcome their fear of stocks all the way to offering clear and successful guidance on complicated-sounding options trades, we can help.

Feb 1, 2016 at 4:54PM

To be perfectly clear, this is not a get-rich action that my Foolish colleagues and I came up with. But we wouldn't argue with the approach.

A 2015 Business Insider article titled, "11 websites to bookmark if you want to get rich" rated The Motley Fool as the #1 place online to get smarter about investing.

"The Motley Fool aims to build a strong investment community, which it does by providing a variety of resources: the website, books, a newspaper column, a radio [show], and [newsletters]," wrote (the clearly insightful and talented) money reporter Kathleen Elkins. "This site has something for every type of investor, from basic lessons for beginners to investing commentary on mutual funds, stock sectors, and value for the more advanced."

Our mission at The Motley Fool is to help the world invest better, so it's nice to receive that kind of recognition. It lets us know we're doing our job.

Whether that's helping the entirely uninitiated overcome their fear of stocks all the way to offering clear and successful guidance on complicated-sounding options trades, we want to provide our readers with a boost to the next step on their journey to financial independence.

Articles and beyond

As Business Insider wrote, there are a number of resources available from the Fool for investors of all levels and styles.

In addition to the dozens of free articles we publish every day on our website, I want to highlight two must-see spots in your tour of

For the beginning investor

Investing can seem like a Big Deal to those who have yet to buy their first stock. Many investment professionals try to infuse the conversation with jargon in order to deter individual investors from tackling it on their own (and to justify their often sky-high fees).

But the individual investor can beat the market. The real secret to investing is that it doesn't take tons of money, endless hours, or super-secret formulas that only experts possess.

That's why we created a best-selling guide that walks investors-to-be through everything they need to know to get started. And because we're so dedicated to our mission, we've made that available for free.

If you're just starting out (or want to help out someone who is), go to, drop in your email address, and you'll be able to instantly access the quick-read guide ... for free.

For the listener

Whether it's on the stationary exercise bike or during my daily commute, I spend a lot of time going nowhere. But I've found a way to make that time benefit me.

The Motley Fool offers five podcasts that I refer to as "binge-worthy financial information."

Motley Fool Money features a team of our analysts discussing the week's top business and investing stories, interviews, and an inside look at the stocks on our radar. It's also featured on several dozen radio stations across the country.

The hosts of Motley Fool Answers challenge the conventional wisdom on life's biggest financial issues to reveal what you really need to know to make smart money moves.

David Gardner, co-founder of The Motley Fool, is among the most respected and trusted sources on investing. And he's the host of Rule Breaker Investing, in which he shares his insights into today's most innovative and disruptive companies ... and how to profit from them.

Market Foolery is our daily look at stocks in the news, as well as the top business and investing stories.

And Industry Focus offers a deeper dive into a specific industry and the stories making headlines. Healthcare, technology, energy, consumer goods, and other industries take turns in the spotlight.

They're all informative, entertaining, and eminently listenable ... and I don't say that simply because the hosts all sit within a Nerf-gun shot of my desk. Rule Breaker Investing and Answers contain timeless advice, so you might want to go back to the beginning with those. The other three take their cues from the market, so you'll want to listen to the most recent first. All are available at

But wait, there's more

The book and the podcasts – both free ... both awesome – also come with an ongoing benefit. If you download the book, or if you enter your email address in the magical box at the podcasts page, you'll get ongoing market coverage sent straight to your inbox.

Investor Insights is valuable and enjoyable coverage of everything from macroeconomic events to investing strategies to our analyst's travels around the world to find the next big thing. Also free.

Get the book. Listen to a podcast. Sign up for Investor Insights. I'm not saying that any of those things will make you rich ... but Business Insider seems to think so.

Compare Brokers