A seemingly innocuous picture taken by David Ortiz of the Boston Red Sox with President Barack Obama has resulted in a controversy and a cautionary tale for advertisers.
Samsung riled the White House after the company promoted the Ortiz snap taken during a ceremony honoring the 2013 World Series Champions. The picture was initially posted by Ortiz on his Twitter account and then retweeted by Samsung to the company’s 5.26 million followers with the caption, “thrilled to see the special, historic moment David Ortiz captured with his Galaxy Note 3 during his White House visit.”
Although Ortiz acknowledged that he is sponsored by Samsung, Big Papi denied that he was paid specifically for the selfie or instructed by the company to take it (even as teammates yelled out “Cha-ching!” when the image was taken).
Either way, the White House was not pleased. “As a rule the White House objects to attempts to use the president’s likeness for commercial purposes,” press secretary Jay Carney said in a statement. “And we certainly object in this case.” Senior advisor Dan Pfeiffer appeared on Face the Nation and said White House lawyers got on the phone with Samsung over the image. “We’ve had conversations with Samsung about this and expressed our concerns,” he said.
And just days later, when some of the country’s Olympic athletes stopped by to meet the President, they were reportedly instructed to keep their cell phones in their pockets. Although the White House confirmed that the athletes were asked not to take individual pictures with President Obama, Carney said it was a matter of efficiency and not a ban on selfies. At least, not yet.
Why it matters: Did Samsung and/or Ortiz cross ethical lines by essentially using the President in promotional materials for the company? Many in the ad industry would answer in the affirmative, and the headlines serve as a reminder to companies – particularly in the age of social media – to use caution when using a celebrity image without permission.