Samsung Marketing Chief Tells Story Behind Oscars Star-Studded Selfie

Ellen Group Selfie at Oscars - H 2014

Ellen Group Selfie at Oscars - H 2014

A planned photo of host Ellen DeGeneres and Meryl Streep became much bigger and spurred a charity donation.

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Samsung marketing chief Todd Pendleton attributes much of the brand's marketing success to moving quickly and seizing opportunities on the fly.

That's not to say that the company doesn't plan its efforts. It certainly does, but it leaves the door open to calling audibles. A perfect example is the World's Most Famous Selfie at the Academy Awards.

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Going into the show, Samsung had planned a Samsung-shot selfie of host Ellen DeGeneres and actress Meryl Streep, Pendleton told attendees Tuesday at the 4A's Transformation conference in Beverly Hills, Calif. What actually happened -- the star-studded group image that blew up Twitter -- obviously proved much bigger. But then -- via quick thinking -- Samsung extended that success even further.

"If you look at that picture -- the faces of all those people -- they truly are joyous. It brought joy to a lot of people. And how do you take that and make it something more than a marketing moment?" Pendleton asked. "So, literally the next morning in the shower, it's like, 'We're going to do a donation.' So, I called my boss, and he said yes. We called the Ellen show, their team got involved and within 15 minutes it happened.

The brand donated $3 million, split between DeGeneres' two selected nonprofits: St. Jude Children's Research Hospital and the Humane Society.

"So, these are the things that just permeate because it's who we are, it's in our DNA and they allow these moments to have long tails that are more than just a product promotion," Pendleton said.

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Even with ad shoots, Samsung takes a flexible approach, letting a Jay Z, Paul Rudd or LeBron James say what they feel, albeit in the context of pre-established marketing goals. That means lead Samsung shop 72andSunny has to give up some control, but the rewards may be greater. At times, shoot deadlines also become tighter.

For example, 72andSunny shot a Paul Rudd-Seth Rogen ad for the 2013 Super Bowl after other marketers had already revealed their Super Bowl plans. But the lag time enabled the comic actors to skewer something real.

"Because we were so -- my agency might say, "so last-minute" -- we'll say real-time organic, we knew every other advertiser [and] what their creative was while we were shooting," Pendleton said. "So, we were able to comment on that and again, create social conversation. That way it creates more social chatter."