Campaign Trail is our analysis of some of the best and worst new creative efforts from the marketing world. View past columns in the archives here.
Strolling through fantastical scenes of a vibrant desert landscape and poolside garden, pop star Charli XCX stars in a new advertisement for Samsung's Galaxy Buds2 headphones.
A video from agency R/GA portrays the musician against a backdrop of lush foliage, matching the muted green tone of one set of earbuds. She then walks into a pool, surrounded by rising water droplets, and soon turns transparent to signify the product's clear sound. Each scenario in the ad accompanies a dedicated soundscape, like the sound of water crashing on the singer's body, flowers blooming and lightning exploding around her to express the product's powerful bass.
To immerse Charli in four vibrant worlds in just one day of shooting, Samsung and agency R/GA shot the film on 106 cameras simultaneously, using 3D modeling and a stage surrounded with green screens in a method called volumetric capture, akin to augmented reality. The technique captures Charli XCX's form and movement as she interacts with her virtual surroundings.
The insight that inspired the 30-second ad centered around how typical headphone marketing touts closing listeners off from the world and helping them get into their own head with noise-cancelling features, according to R/GA's Executive Creative Director James Dick. Samsung and R/GA took a different approach to show how Galaxy Buds2 can enhance how people enjoy the world.
"With that, we naturally started thinking about augmented reality. In essence, that's what it does; it takes what's around you and gives you some control to add in all this interesting stuff," Dick said.
Pop culture heft
The visual spectacle first released on the musician's Instagram and other social media accounts on Aug. 31, teasing her newest track called "Good Ones." A black pair of Samsung Buds2 also appears in the "Good Ones" music video and a product review clip where Charli XCX details how to fine-tune the device's sound quality.
R/GA crafted the four worlds featured in the spot around places where the Los Angeles-based musician would feel at home, such as a desert or pool that exudes Southern California vibes.
"It's about using the full visual and audio range to help tell that story of the [Galaxy Buds2] colors and features, really immersing into Charli's actual world," Dick said.
Embedding a previously unreleased track into the ad allowed Samsung to put some pop culture heft behind its marketing for Galaxy Buds2, potentially reaching the musician's 8.6 million followers across Instagram, Twitter and TikTok.
"We had exclusivity to that song for this release, and that helps generate excitement with [her] community. They were all kind of frothing at the mouth for the new Charli XCX tune," Dick said.
To connect with the pop star's tech-savvy fans, R/GA and Samsung designed the ad and broader campaign to "speak the language of Gen Z," blending video game-style visuals with the super-smooth transitions of popular TikTok clips.
Volumetric capture was an efficient method of manifesting this tech-heavy production, letting the creative team dabble in 3D modeling, virtual worlds and complex camera work. Opting for a stage surrounded by a 20-foot green screen, R/GA could experiment with video transitions like flying overhead and crashing down to cut to the next scene or pushing into Charli's ear and then pulling out wide onto a desert view.
"If you want to do that for real, you're talking about massive motion control rigs and huge cranes and weeks of pre-planning. So really, what the volumetric capture let us do is open up creativity and have a lot of fun," Dick said.
The creative agency has previously used the technology in experiential activations, but applying volumetric capture for an advertisement is still relatively new.
Linking music and product marketing
Samsung is a technology company at its core, so embracing new digital methods for production and advertising is only natural. At the same time, it has a history of weaving in pop culture icons and references into its marketing as it positions itself to match the moment.
"Collaborating with someone like Charli, [who] is also very much a content creator herself and likes to do kind of weird experimental things, I think that really fits squarely into our authenticity and goal of reaching specific communities," Dick said.
The brand in 2019 released a special Blackpink bundle — smartphone, watch and earbuds — themed around the hit K-Pop band. Samsung added a participatory element to the campaign, and with the band's help, dipped its toes in the beginnings of TikTok dance challenges. User submissions totaled 4 million videos, generating 20 billion views and 850,000 new Samsung followers on the platform. This translated to a 130% lift in brand favorability and a 190% boost in purchase intent in key markets, per R/GA data.
In 2020, the company followed up with a similar deal with K-Pop group BTS. The seven bandmates appeared in an ad for the limited-edition Galaxy S20+ phone, and more recently starred in a 5G-focused spot.
"Now with Charli, we've got an ongoing relationship of this interplay between music and [Samsung] products, where we find unique, new, culturally relevant ways to plug into that," Dick said.