The Boston Red Sox visited the White House this week so President Obama could honor them for their 2013 World Series victory. Such big league sports team appearances are always a festive occasion for administration staffers and the players themselves, and this one was no exception. Everybody was laughing and having a good time and Mr. Obama himself poked fun at the fact that many of the BoSox appeared shorn of the Amish-quality beards they sported during last year’s playoffs.
“Now, I thought I invited the Red Sox here today, but there must be a mistake because I don’t recognize all these clean-shaven guys,” said the president.
In the scrum after the remarks everybody got to shake Obama’s hand and so forth, and then slugger David Ortiz whipped out his cellphone and took a selfie with the president. Maybe you’ve seen it on Twitter or Instagram. It was an instant classic of the genre, with the two men holding up an “Obama” Sox jersey (number 44, get it?) while the rest of the team grinned in the background.
But here’s the problem: Ortiz had just signed a promotion deal with Samsung. The electronic giant thanked him on Twitter and picked up the shot for all its social media feeds. In essence, the player had suckered the president of the United States into appearing in his ad.
And as an ad, it worked. The photo was retweeted over 34,000 times from the Samsung Mobile USA twitter feed alone. To anyone who asked, Samsung officials replied that the picture had been taken with a Galaxy Note 3, according to The Boston Globe.
But as a matter of public relations, this may have been a big mistake. Reaction on sports radio and elsewhere to Ortiz’s move has been pretty heated. Over at Business Insider Joshua Green had a pretty typical reaction.
“Duping the president of the United States into participating with your social media campaign has to be a new low for advertising,” writes Mr. Green, adding that Ortiz should be embarrassed for “a Yankee move.”
OK, calm down, here are some thoughts on this.
First, if Obama wants this to stop, it will. The president of the United States controls their own image for licensing purposes. A call from the White House counsel’s office to Samsung is all it takes. That’s what happened in 2010 when a clothing firm posted a giant photo in Times Square showing Obama wearing one of its coats.
But, second, does Obama really care? He’s got lots of better things to worry about, and in any case all presidents are complicit to some extent in publicity for particular firms, if it suits their purposes. Broadcast appearances on talk shows, for instance, are huge for the broadcasters involved, and often occur only after specific lobbying, as Politico made clear Wednesday in a piece about how Obama ended up on actor Zach Galifianakis’s satirical “Between Two Ferns” talks show.
And third, the Red Sox are really popular. Really, really popular. This kills us to say, as we are not fans of either the Sox or the Yankees, to put it mildly. But as Nate Silver writes Wednesday on his new FiveThirtyEight site, if you take the number of Google searches related to each major league team, and divide it by the size of its metro TV market, Boston wins. It beats the Yankees, the Mets, the Braves, everybody.
“The Red Sox are a clear No. 1 and are about three times as popular as you’d guess from the size of the Boston media market,” writes Mr. Silver.
Sob. Well, at least they lost on opening day to the Baltimore Orioles.