Tone-deaf Samsung ad: Gentrification is awesome when it’s organized on a Galaxy Note 3

Saving the village by destroying it.
Saving the village by destroying it.
Image: Samsung
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Samsung’s ad for its newest phone, the Galaxy Note 3, and accompanying watch, the Galaxy Gear, is possibly the worst, most oblivious piece of video ever produced by a tech company. And that’s saying something for this industry!

The two-minute spot goes like this: A sharply dressed developer steps into a blighted neighborhood inhabited entirely by poor, unhappy children. Using his Note and Gear, the developer orchestrates a menacing urban renewal project, featuring steamrollers that look like tanks and demolitions that sound like artillery fire. When the dust settles, the terrified children emerge to find a brand new soccer pitch and discover that the developer is Argentine soccer star Lionel Messi.

It’s a heartwarming tale—if you’re thinking about it from Messi or Samsung’s perspective. They’ve saved the neighborhood and given these kids the playing field they never knew they wanted. But if you view it like a normal person, the ad is exploitative, classist, and just plain tone-deaf. The idea that Samsung’s very expensive electronics are going to lift these kids out of poverty—or even brighten their day, if that’s the point—is just offensive.

Samsung makes things worse by scoring the ad with “Royals,” the hit by New Zealand teenager Lorde. As the Verge rightly points out, the song is about growing up poor and realizing that life is about more than the spoils of affluence. It’s dissing people who value things like smartphones and shiny soccer fields. This verse actually insults fancy watches:

But everybody’s like Cristal, Maybach, diamonds on your timepiece
Jet planes, islands, tigers on a gold leash
We don’t care. We aren’t caught up in your love affair

But Samsung sees different meaning. “The children watch in awe,” reads its official description of the ad. “They reflect on their current situation by singing Lorde’s breakout hit ‘Royals,’ a song about overcoming her own humble beginnings.”

Overcoming humble beginnings with the help of a smartwatch.

Not everyone shares my view of the ad. Here’s a rave in AdWeek: “The spot has a nice, dark vibe, great cinematography, and impressive attention to detail. Paco Delgado, who was the costume designer for the film version of Les Misérables, created the costumes for the spot.” I’ve reached out to Samsung for comment.

The Galaxy Note 3 costs $700 without a contract; the Galaxy Gear costs $300.