The Oscars: What Samsung got Right (and Wrong!)

If you caught the Oscars the other night, you might have noticed Samsung was a prominent sponsor. It was hard not to. According to the Wall Street Journal, they spent around twenty million on ads alone. But what they really got right was getting Ellen involved and incorporating their products into the show’s bits.

Ellen’s now-famous selfie got over 920,000 retweets in under an hour and went on to score millions of retweets. Consider the promotional benefit gained from a single photo that required two taps: one to take the picture and another to post it to twitter (along with 57 characters of text for the caption). This is a gleaming example of what our mobile devices are meant for and what they’re best at: fast, on-the-go data input combined with equally fast output, so fast in fact they can happen on a live TV show without so much as a discernible pause to kill the timing of the gag.

A mobile device should so usable that a person who’s never used it can take a Selfie and post it to Twitter even while hosting the Oscars on live television! Which is apparently just how it went down. According to the Wall Street Journal, “During rehearsals Samsung executives trained Ms. DeGeneres on how to use the Samsung Galaxy [Note 3].” This exemplifies perfectly everything that’s great about mobile devices.

Another quote from the WSJ: “’It was a great plug for the Samsung brand,’ said Allen Adamson, managing director at Landor Associates, a branding firm owned by WPP PLC. ‘Ellen’s selfie is going to be more impactful than their commercials. You can’t buy that magic of going viral,’ he added. Not surprising since the bit was such a feel-good moment, one that humanized Hollywood’s greatest, and went off without a hitch (if you don’t count crashing the Twitter servers with the overwhelming number of retweets!).

Contrast this with the paid Samsung commercials that also appeared during the show, one of which also featured the Galaxy Note 3 along with pro-ball power forward, LeBron James. LeBron or no, in terms of why we buy mobile devices—and how we use them—this ad surprisingly missed the mark.

In the commercial, a snarky, faceless dude gets excited about a LeBron James’ dunk, talks trash about the iPhone, then traces LeBron’s body on the phone with a stylus before dragging and dropping the image literally “into the cloud” by inserting the dunking James into a blue-sky background. The problem is, given the spontaneity of Ellen’s celebratory Selfie, the paid commercial seems staid, superficial, lonely and sad by comparison. Here’s this poor dude talking to no one in particular, and interacting with—not a person, but a picture of a famous b-baller he totally worships but will never meet, before getting all jazzed-up about the fact he has enough free-time in his life to manipulate the photo and text it to his buddy to “remind him how great LeBron is.” Anyone with children will immediately recognize this dude’s lack of priorities, since he comes off looking like he has nothing better to do with his time. Here’s the video, in case you missed it.

Look. It’s great you enjoy sitting in the dark, editing a photo on your Samsung phone, all the while dissing the iPhone for not having a high-def screen (a point so technical and nit-picky that no user could actually discern a difference in image quality between the two). And we get that it’s a really big phone. Mazel tov for making something that will no longer fit in my pants—a device so big there’s ample room for a pen-holder, er, S-Pen holder (which in my mind is just one more thing for me to lose). But that’s ultimately not what sells devices. We all get that these phones are insane. But nobody cares that their phone can do everything their desktop version of Photoshop can do. Because the fact remains, unless you’re carefully tracing LeBron’s outline with bezier tools to knock out every pixel that doesn’t belong to LeBron himself, the end result is going to look like crap.

Unlike the Ellen Selfie, I’m not convinced that this:


Magically turned into this (without first requiring considerable additional tweaking):



What Samsung should really be celebrating is how great Ellen DeGeneres is, and how lucky they are that their device performed flawlessly to produce a joyful nugget of Oscar gold, when anything at all (from a blurry photo to network hang-ups) could have at best sullied the bit and—at worst—irreparably tainted the device’s reputation. Just ask Bill Gates.


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