Adam Hashemi has directed commercials for big names like Nike, Audi, and Volkswagen, and he's even made a humorous spot for Coke that aired during the 2011 Super Bowl. But his latest client work was done for Samsung, and it caught our eye yesterday morning as another example of the company's often tone-deaf antics. "[The ad] will always be controversial," Hashemi said to The Verge in a phone interview. "It's a phone, and it's a very, very rich football star, and these kids look poor."
"The ad will always be controversial."
His commercial finds Dickensian children watching their impoverished neighborhood be destroyed while singing Lorde's "Royals." The twist is that the destruction is actually the doings of soccer star Lionel Messi — aided by Samsung Galaxy products, of course — who's actually building the kids a new soccer field. "To me, the ad is funny. It's highly dramatic," Hashemi says. "It's a musical, which is in itself, to me, is funny."
But it's one thing for a breakout, middle-class artist to sing confidently about accepting that she'll never have flashy cars, and another for poor children to sing that in woe amidst what initially appears to be a tragedy — revealed in the end to be somewhat reflexive gentrification. The juxtaposition is distinctly uncomfortable, but Hashemi says that's the point. He adds that the spot isn't simply funny in a comedic way, but funny in that the ad makes you think about it afterward. "The whole point is to create a disconnect," he says. "That irony is lost on [some] ... It is definitely very obscure."
The ad concept was proposed during a conference call
That point didn't quite come from the deliberate mind of an auteur, however. Hashemi says that an ad agency fought hard for the spot's concept. "It always starts with a conference call," Hashemi tells us. The ad team pitched Samsung on the idea of dramatizing Messi's charitable work in a fun way. "Right on that first phone call, someone mentioned it could be fun if we did this with the kids singing. I went crazy for that idea. I said: 'Listen. I can only give you this interpretation, and I don't want to do it unless it's this interpretation.'"
Choosing a song proved difficult, and Hashemi makes it sound as though one wasn't selected until late into production. His team considered tracks ranging from David Bowie's "Starman" to Johnny Mercer's "Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate the Positive." When they finally landed on "Royals," it only had 2 million views on YouTube, he says, and wasn't yet a hit single, although they saw potential. Now, it's at closer to 28 million, and sits atop the Billboard Hot 100. Hashemi isn't sure if Lorde ever saw and approved her song's use in the ad, but a licensing team did clear it.
Though Samsung commissioned the spot, it apparently didn't demand much creative control over it. "[Samsung] actually gave us quite a lot of freedom," Hashemi says. The company apparently only required two things from the spot: First, it wanted the Note 3 to be a catalyst for the story. And second, Hashemi says, "[Samsung] didn't want it to look like homeless kids, but that's because [Messi's] not building football pitches for homeless kids, he's building them for kids who live in poor neighborhoods."
"Samsung didn't want it to look like homeless kids."
Whether either of those requirements were actually met is open for debate, though Hashemi thinks that the product integration is quite natural. "It's not just an excuse to make a narrative," he says. Even so, Messi's use of the Note 3 is symbolic at most, though Hasmemi believes it's a poetic way to translate the soccer star's workflow into the constraints of a short spot.
"Of course some people won't get it," Hashemi says. "I think it's fine. In the end, the kids are happy."
Nilay Patel and Stephen Greenwood contributed to this report.