Over the past two months, a few ‘selfies’ have generated a lot of buzz. (For those of you who may be unaware, a selfie is a picture you take of yourself.  In reality, many selfies have multiple people in them, leading to a debate in my family recently if ‘selfie’ is actually the right word to describe it – but that’s a discussion for another day.)

In early March, Ellen DeGeneres was hosting the Oscars and tweeted a selfie that included a long list of celebrities. That tweet went on to become the most retweeted tweet ever with 3.4 million retweets. In early April, David Ortiz snapped a selfie with President Obama when the reigning champion Red Sox visited the White House; that shot garnered 43,000 retweets. Just a week later, Bubba Watson took a selfie at the Waffle House where he was celebrating his Masters win that was retweeted nearly 17,000 times. In addition to those thousands (or millions of retweets), each selfie generated dozens of news articles, helping to reach out to consumers not on Twitter.  These tweets helped to generate tons of free publicity for the brands involved.

But was the publicity actually free?

DeGeneres and Ortiz were both using Samsung phones to take their now infamous selfies. Samsung spent $20 million on its sponsorship of the Oscars and David Ortiz has recently agreed to an endorsement deal with Samsung. After Ortiz’s selfie was taken, Samsung confirmed it helped plan the photo. Clearly Samsung did not simply stumble in to a goldmine of ‘free’ publicity – they spent a lot (and planned) to make it happen. But that spend looks as though it’s already paid off – one report estimates the Oscar selfie was worth between $800 million and $1 billion for Samsung.

Waffle House, on the other hand, does seem to have benefitted from truly free publicity stemming from Watson’s visit. There has been no indication that Waffle House helped plan or execute Watson’s selfie; rather, Watson just wanted to share a picture of his celebration. (It’s also known that Watson is a fan of Waffle House; he spoke about the restaurant after his 2012 Masters win.) Although Waffle House may not have benefitted quite like Samsung, there is no doubt the company received positive attention in the wake of Watson’s tweet. In fact, Waffle House saw a spike in mentions and new followers the day after Watson tweeted his picture.

As it becomes increasingly more difficult to reach consumers through traditional media outlets, marketers have had to become more and more creative to get their messages across. Selfies may be a good avenue for that. What will be interesting to see is how endorsement and sponsorship deals incorporate selfies. Will we see more brands taking the Samsung route and carefully planning a selfie campaign?  Or will brands take the Waffle House route and ride the wave from impromptu celebrity endorsements?