How Samsung VR Saved a Dad From Missing His Son’s Birth—Sort Of

A beautiful moment or an intrusive ploy?

Would you let Samsung turn the birth of your child into an ad, if it meant the company would also set up a live-streaming virtual reality rig, so your partner could witness the moment—despite being away for work?

A new six-minute, documentary-style commercial does just that for a couple in Australia. The father, Jace, has a fly-in-fly-out job, meaning he spends four-week stretches some 2,500 miles from his family. The mother, Alison, is expecting their third child. Samsung saves the day, with a 360-degree swivel camera in the delivery room in Perth and a VR headset for the dad in Chinchilla, Queensland. 

The results are at the same time beautiful, highly sympathetic and slightly unsettling. Samsung may be giddy with the tech-happy zeitgeist, but at what point does a marketer become intrusive and exploitative?

On the one hand, there's the appearance of clear benefit for the couple—the father gets to be more present than he would have. On the other hand, the slow-motion footage of the mother pushing her way through labor pains while the music makes a melodramatic crescendo takes what should be an intimate moment and turns it into a heavy-handed piece of entertainment-as-sales pitch.

The shot of the newborn resting on Alison's chest for the first time is irrefutably powerful stuff. Samsung has invited the entire world to take part in a scene that, while universal, is also incredibly personal. And we're seeing it not quite from the eyes of the father—but from the eyes of Samsung, in which Samsung is, of course, the hero. 

Sure, it's a well-shaped piece of advertising—by definition it's going to be manipulative. But the marketer's socially awkward perspective is clearest in the kicker. The ad shows Jace at the airport after his flight home, meeting "his newborn son," the smug, on-screen copy reading, "for the second time." Technology isn't an aid to help bring together a family separated by necessity. Technology is a bonafide substitute for reality, and the dramatic effect of the message—that Samsung was the solution—becomes more important than the fact that this guy is actually, finally getting to hold his kid.

So next time, maybe just have your mother-in-law FaceTime the birth for you.