Ellen DeGeneres’ star-studded “selfie” photo, taken while she was host of the Academy Awards ceremony, generated quite a buzz. The photo was snapped with DeGeneres surrounded by Hollywood stars, including Bradley Cooper, Brad Pitt, and Jennifer Lawrence, and subsequently made the rounds on Twitter as viewers continuously retweeted the picture. The selfie was taken with a Samsung Galaxy Note 3, and a story in the Wall Street Journal suggests that the moment was not as spontaneous as it seemed.
According to two unnamed sources in the story, Samsung, who reportedly spent nearly $20 million in advertising during the Oscars, negotiated beforehand to have the Galaxy smartphone integrated into the show. The show aired on ABC, and Samsung reportedly gave an undisclosed number of smartphones to the network in return for a promise that the devices would get airtime.
One instance of such product placement, at least, seemed planned. During the “red carpet” preshow, ABC ran a brief segment of six young, aspiring filmmakers touring Disney Studios, which is owned by ABC’s parent company, Walt Disney Co. They were all carrying and using Samsung phones.
However, DeGeneres herself decided she wanted to take selfies during the broadcast of the awards show. Before that could happen, though, Samsung executives had to train her on how to use the device. That training had to come in handy because, as a USA Today story points out, much was made by Twitter users of the fact that DeGeneres’ backstage, off-camera tweets were originating from her Apple iPhone.
It is estimated that Samsung paid $1.8 million for 30 seconds of ad time during the show. The company bought five minutes of time, putting its total for ads at $18 million alone. By comparison, the company only spent a total of $24 million in advertising during the Oscars since 2009, according to ad tracker Kantar Media. It is unclear if it paid more to have the devices used on camera during the show.
Stopping just short of a complete denial that DeGeneres’ selfie was a planned instance of product placement, Samsung issued a statement calling it "unexpected."
"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," the statement read. "A great surprise for everyone, she captured something that nobody expected.”
Planned or not, it seems to have turned out to be priceless for Samsung, says Allen Adamson of branding firm Landor Associates.
"Ellen's selfie is going to be more impactful than their commercials," he said. "You can't buy that magic of going viral."