For Samsung, Ellen DeGeneres’ Oscars selfie is a triumph


SAN FRANCISCO — Samsung Electronics Co. struck social media gold when Oscars host Ellen DeGeneres used one of its smartphones to take what has now become the world’s most famous selfie.

DeGeneres never mentioned Samsung, a major Academy Awards sponsor, but handed actor Bradley Cooper the company’s Galaxy Note 3 for the celebrity-filled shot that included Meryl Streep, Jennifer Lawrence, Kevin Spacey, Jared Leto and Lupita Nyong’o.

The Oscars selfie was such a viral hit that it crushed the previous record set by President Obama after his reelection in 2012 and temporarily knocked Twitter’s service offline as fans retweeted it more than 700,000 times in the first half hour alone.


“We crashed and broke Twitter,” DeGeneres said from the stage. “We made history.”

The selfie holds the record as the most popular tweet ever, making the picture worth every dollar Samsung paid for the sponsorship, said Peter Sealey, chief executive of the Sausalito Group strategic marketing company.

“That was a social media home run. It really was,” Sealey said.

Samsung said Monday that the selfie was not scripted and that it would donate $3 million total to two charities picked by DeGeneres to thank her. It also began running an ad on Twitter: “Record-breaking selfie taken on #TheNextBigThing! Noted.”

The South Korean electronics maker used the Oscars to introduce its “One Samsung” campaign that promoted a variety of products including the Galaxy Note Pro Tablet, the Galaxy S5 phone, the Gear 2 smartwatch and a curved ultra-high-definition television.

Samsung did not disclose how much it paid to be a sponsor, but according to research firm Kantar Media, the company spent $24 million from 2009 to 2013 to be one of the top advertisers on the show during those years.

Samsung’s Note 3 phone was a fixture on Sunday’s broadcast. On Monday, DeGeneres tweeted that she gave everyone in the audience of her namesake TV show a Galaxy Note 3.

Product placement is the practice of paying to have merchandise featured in a scene. It has become a multibillion-dollar business as more viewers skip commercials, making product placement an effective and less intrusive way to get brands in front of people.

James Bond carried the Sony Xperia T smartphone throughout “Skyfall.” On Showtime’s “Homeland,” CIA agents were contacted in the field over Skype. Cisco’s videoconferencing tool TelePresence made a cameo in “30 Rock” when Jack Donaghy was forced to use it after getting bed bugs. In an episode of “Hawaii Five-0” a character is told to “Bing it” as Microsoft tries to get people to use “Bing” as a verb the way they use “Google.”

Facebook got tons of free publicity with the award-winning 2010 film “The Social Network” which was an unauthorized look at the company.

The biggest role in a movie yet for a technology company: Google in last summer’s comedy “The Internship.” The Internet giant’s campus in Mountain View, Calif., was the setting for the film in which Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson play down-on-their-luck watch salesmen searching for a second chance as Silicon Valley interns. Google lent its brand to the 20th Century Fox movie and let the production film two days on site without charging location or licensing fees.

But for years, one Silicon Valley has been most famous for getting free screen time, and that’s Apple.

Starting in the 1990s, the Macintosh began appearing on “Seinfeld” and in “Independence Day.”

With new devices such as the iPod and iPhone swiftly gaining popularity, producers started to clamor to get those devices onto television and into movies. Carrie Bradshaw used a MacBook on “Sex and the City,” and Michael Scott was given an iPhone on “The Office.”

Apple products showed up in more than one-third of films that topped the U.S. box office between 2001 and 2011, according to a study from Brand Channel.

According to testimony in 2012 from Phil Schiller, Apple’s global chief of marketing, in its patent lawsuit with Samsung, Apple does not pay for its products to be used by Hollywood stars in movies and television. But it does provide the gadgets free of charge.

That was the case in a dramatic product placement in the first season of Netflix’s “House of Cards.” In one scene, there were no fewer than nine Apple devices (five iPhones and four iPads) as Spacey’s character Frank Underwood and an aide monitor multiple police radio feeds.

These kinds of Apple tie-ins reinforce the perception in popular culture that Apple produces premium devices.

Samsung, on the other hand, spent millions in marketing dollars for its sponsorship of the Oscars, which included more than five minutes of air time to showcase its devices.

As part of its deal with ABC’s “The Oscars Backstage,” Samsung sponsored a series of 10 promoted tweets of celebrity selfies sent from the Twitter account @TheAcademy. The photos were taken on a “Twitter Mirror” — essentially a framed tablet mounted on a wall.

But the coup de grace was DeGeneres’ tweet, which as of late Monday had received about 3 million retweets and 1.6 million favorites. The star-studded photo also had 2 million likes on “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” Facebook page.

“Sorry, our bad,” @TheAcademy tweeted after the selfie temporarily disrupted Twitter service.

Twitter declined to comment on the service glitch resulting from the DeGeneres tweet except for a statement on its status blog: “Between 19:05 and 19:29 PST today, some users may have experienced issues viewing and sending tweets on and Twitter’s mobile apps. Traffic was redirected away from the components that were experiencing problems, and the issue has now been resolved.”

But Twitter did celebrate DeGeneres’ record-making moment with this tweet: “The envelope please … to @TheEllenShow — this is now the most retweeted tweet with over 1 million RTs. Congrats!”

A person familiar with the situation but not allowed to speak publicly about Twitter’s Oscar night said that the social media company had no role in the selfie and that its soaring popularity was entirely “organic.”

“Pretty nice placement, and I wouldn’t be surprised if we see Samsung working in that it was used for making that record-breaking tweet happen,” said Danny Sullivan, founding editor of Search Engine Land.

In an emailed statement, Samsung said it was “delighted to see Ellen organically incorporate the device into the selfie moment that had everyone talking.”

Even so, Samsung still has some mighty competition from the iPhone in becoming the smartphone to the stars.

DeGeneres took the world’s most famous selfie with a Samsung phone, but she — or at least her Twitter account — tweeted backstage at the Oscars with an iPhone.

Twitter: @jguynn

Times staff writer Chris O’Brien contributed to this report.