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The Selfie That Launched a Thousand Ships: Ellen’s Oscar Moment

The Selfie That Launched a Thousand Ships: Ellen’s Oscar Moment

The Samsung Celebrity Selfie: A Marketing Gift That Keeps on Giving

(And What Your Nonprofit Can Learn From It)


Ellen Degeneres intended to break Twitter records, and the power of suggestion certainly worked in her favor. That infamous Oscar selfie began with–of all celebrities, an unexpected one (Meryl Streep)–is also the reason for its success. But with Ellen, Meryl Streep, Jennifer Lawrence, Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie, Julia Roberts, Kevin Spacey, Bradley Cooper, Channing Tatum, not to mention Best Supporting Actress award-winner Lupita Nyong’o (and more who tried squeezing in the photo)…you could find a million reasons to retweet this photo, if not just for the novelty of an event taking place that seems so colloquial, especially among an audience of the rich and famous. It was accessible to all–if you missed the Oscars, you still could not escape the selfie. Major news outlets carried the story of the selfie, and social networks regurgitated the event for days after the Oscars aired on Sunday.


Ellen didn’t do it all by herself(ie): Twitter, Samsung, and ABC


Samsung sponsored 10 celebrity selfie tweets and payed ABC $18 million for prime time ads, viewed even by those who chose to stream instead of viewing live. ABC had access to 43 million viewers on Sunday night. Samsung knows how to capitalize on the selfie. Samsung propositioned these celebrity selfies because like any good marketing strategy, they knew it’d be the gift that’d keep on giving. Their extra $3 million given to Ellen’s charities indicates that the ads bought on ABC were merely supplementing their main plan for the night: the selfies. The air time they bought served mainly as a reminder that the specific product–a Samsung smartphone–has a new version out. So the product actually was not the focus. The selfie approach, which shows a celebrity using the phone in a way that most people can relate to, is a brilliant. In a society saturated with smart devices that connect us to our social media platforms of choice, this is a sure way to reach a wide and involved audience.

Twitter has the tools to connect celebrities with all of their fans. The “Most Retweeted Selfie of All-Time” wasn’t an accident; there just wasn’t the specific plan of who would be in the photo, only that it would, at some point, be taken.


A Look at The Samsung Strategy


More than just the right place at the right time, they were multiples places at the right time. The most important thing to learn from this is that a good campaign attacks on all fronts. This campaign not only sells their new products, it relates the use of those products to the celebration of greats that occurs in the Oscars to their product in a timely and trendy way. The taking of the selfie went so smoothly that it portrays to viewers that the camera is good, the phone works, and that it is the choice of celebrities who selfie due to those facts. Their campaign has changed from being the competitor of Apple to being the smartphone monolith of the future and of innovation. Samsung’s Oscar strategy interweaves the seemingly separate campaigns so that they supplement each other and the viewer (as the medium began on TV) stays constantly aware of the product.




The ad spots they had were part of their “Amazing Things Happen” campaign, which included “Family”, “Gear 2″, “Galaxy 5 S” and most significantly, “You’ve Gotta See This”. A good smartphone should seamlessly capture and share a moment. This approach, the “You’ve Gotta See This” campaign, is teammates with the “Oscar Selfie” technique. “Amazing Things Happen” showcases new releases and frequently repeated throughout the Oscars. It calls to mind the 2001: A Space Odyssey obelisk–sleek, futuristic, maybe even a little daunting. The warmer side of the campaign is found in the human use of the phone and it’s cultural relevance. Buying that much ad space just to keep the product in the consumer mind while seamlessly integrating their phone into the host’s performance itself was actually nonintrusive, and felt like a genuine moment we stumbled upon, and that Ellen happened to catch. It was less important if the stunt was planned once the focus was shifted to the donation that Samsung was providing to Ellen to give to the charities of her choice. The donation of $3 million (corresponding to the nearly 3 million retweets the photo got) was divided in half: $1.5 going to St. Jude’s Children Hospital, $1.5 to the Humane Society of the United States.


Giving a popular out celebrity talk show host a choice of charities to donate to is great PR for the company without making it about the brand, but about their contribution to culture and to the general public. This gave the campaign a second wave. Because even after the Oscars passed, (but not too much after of course), word of their matching the nearly $3 million retweets with a donation of the same, spread. This already infamous’ selfie spread itself after it was taken, and after consumer involvement helped them break the record of “Most Re-Tweeted Selfie”, Ellen’s “Oscar moment” became part of culture–exactly their intent with the campaign. It was mirrored by the St. Jude Children’s Hospital (one of the recipients) in their response “A St. Jude Moment”.

Samsung only retweeted the original selfie image once. It seems like the art of social media is best handled with a light hand on the reins, but with a strong belief that the idea will be good enough to spread itself and go viral. Don’t try too hard to control content on social media platforms–relinquish control of the idea, as users will spread it, discuss it, mock it, and question it. But in this case, no PR is bad PR, because it generates mass curiosity to know more about the buzzy campaign.


Social Media Lessons for your Nonprofit:


  • Advance the “sharability” of your content/cause over social media. You don’t have to be the biggest, best or the most famous to come out top on social media–you just have to cover more bases. There are a few ways to: You must engage other businesses or celebrities on that social media to promote your cause, treat it as if it were a petition that needs a lot of signatures (read: retweets, shares, likes). Provide a clear benefit for users/followers for their participation, such as a dollar for every re-tweet, share or like. Aflack did it–donating $2 a retweet or share for a cure to cancer. 


  • Tweet on weekends–Twitter engagement for brands is almost 20% higher on weekends. Your best bet for users clicking on your links is if you keep the tweets between 120 and 130 characters, and about a quarter through the tweet, and keep the verbs interesting. Pictures help (doubly)! (


  • Getting that perfect shot–a shot that Samsung got. The idea is both relatable and intensely unique–that once in a lifetime experience. In a moment like that, what if your phone died or the camera quality was ‘shotty’? Samsung got the most important, and probably the most subtle part, down. Show your product or service working the way it ideally should for your customer, and use social media in a way that is truly social.


  • Mobile device focused–platform utilized and users considered. Set goals: record breaking mass involvement with the campaign rewarded with charity donation. “25% of people 18-44 say they can’t remember the last time their phone was not next to them” ( so a quarter of people from 18-44 are constantly reachable by web including social media. Everyone uses social media for their business–so by including more businesses, you include their client base as well.


  • And last–make it as viral as possible. Be topical, trendy, searchable. Just don’t be redundant! Of course, easier said than done, but all you need is a tie-in. Something in the news that relates to your cause? that doesn’t mean you need an ellen to get donations–the idea is that of rewarding a contest, essentially employing your followers–and engaging others, and thus their followers, so that you have a wide net of potential participation and potential reward. the average donation given over social media increases every year. you can saturate your medium with, on one level, your goal–say you’re working with another business who, if you can get them a certain amount of twitter attention, will donate to your group’s cause. Then, on another level, bolster your name and goal with those who already know you–its on one level about the cause, and on another level that you’re working behind it.


They may have let these celebrities make the ad happen in their own way, but there was very little risk in this strategy. While it is a “good catch”, the reason the ad succeeds is because everyone who engages with it can find a hook about it to keep the buzz going.

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