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Here's an ad created by DDB New York for WaterIsLife, a nonprofit organization dedicated to providing clean drinking water to people in developing countries. The ad features a bunch of poor Haitian people reading a bunch of #FirstWorldProblems tweets out loud: "I hate when my phone charger won't reach my bed," "I hate it when I tell them no pickles, and they still give me pickles," etc. The message of the spot is clear: You're an asshole for whining about your problems when you have clean drinking water. Now here is why this spot is fucking terrible:
The first problem is that the spot is apparently tone deaf to irony. Any moron knows that the #FirstWorldProblems hashtag is used specifically to illustrate the fact that such problems are miniscule compared to starving babies and all that shit. But here's DDB's press release about the ad. And yes, in the ad business, people actually send out press releases for fucking ads:
DDB New York announced today that it is attempting to eliminate the #FirstWorldProblems hashtag on Twitter – the first mission to wipe out, instead of promote, a trending hashtag.
I can't think of a more pointless, fruitless endeavor than to rid Twitter of a hashtag. No amount of money in the world will get people to stop using a hashtag, especially ones like #uknowhecheatinwhen. But go on...
#FirstWorldProblems showcases concerns that seem important to those living in wealthy, industrialized countries, yet are, in fact, trivial compared to the issues faced by those struggling to survive in many parts of the world. Though meant in jest, these tweets about "problems"—such as having to get up to change the TV channel or a phone charger that won't reach the bed—also reveal a lack of sensitivity or awareness about serious social and health concerns and the ways that social media users can help alleviate real problems.
I thought the whole point of that hashtag WAS to reveal sensitivity to real problems. But what DDB is basically saying is that you're just using the hashtag as a cheap way to get away with bitching about your phone charger not reaching your bed, which I suppose is fair. It's true. I don't go fighting to deliver clean water to the people of Tanzania right after posting a #FirstWorldProblems tweet, because it IS annoying when the charger doesn't reach my nightstand. However, getting rid of that hashtag (which again, isn't even a sincerely offensive hashtag) will do exactly nothing to alleviate the thirst of a dying woman. Trust me, we're all still going to be just an insensitive as we all were before, because we can be.
The people at Business Insider hailed this ad as one of the best of the year, but man, it's awfully easy for any hack to write a public service announcement that's designed specifically to make people feel like selfish pricks. That's the first creative avenue any potential PSA leads you down: SUPPORT THIS OR YOU'RE A COCK. Meanwhile, the best PSAs, like the Truth campaign, avoid that angle entirely. For example:
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It's far more interesting—and more thoughtful—to say, "Big Tobacco is secretly fucking you over," than it is to say, "You're a jerk for smoking." The Truth strategy is recruiting you in fighting against the man, not trying to guilt trip you and making you feel defensive about your connection to the man. In general, ad agencies have a love/hate relationship with PSAs. They love doing PSAs like the WaterIsLife ad because it's an easy way to make an emotionally affecting ad that can potentially win them lots of shiny awards, and ad people prize awards the way you and I prize oxygen and warm shelter.
But that easiness is also what causes a lot of creative professionals to disdain PSAs. If you're trying to get a job in advertising and half your portfolio consists of PSAs, that portfolio is going into the trash can. Because you've presented yourself with virtually no creative challenges when you do a PSA. Who's against clean water for starving people, besides Ron Paul supporters? NO ONE. It's a slam dunk of a strategy: "Here, make people feel like inconsiderate pricks."
And the ad itself isn't even a new idea. The whole, "your problems are not that huge in the grand scheme of things" idea is as old as time itself, an idea that is PROPOGATED by the #FirstWorldProblems hashtag. All DDB did was declare, "Hey, we know you people mean this tag ironically, but we think you don't mean it ironically. But we're gonna steal your ironic tone anyway."
Creative people in advertising are much more impressed by work that isn't this easy. After all, ad agencies usually don't make money doing PSAs. They make money doing real ads for products that are often unspectacular or downright shitty. It's easy to do a PSA against smoking. It's way harder to do a decent print ad for Winstons. So DDB can pat itself on the back all it likes for this spot. But in the end, they deliberately misinterpreted the obvious meaning of something in order to make an even more obvious ad. But hey, I'm sure someone will get a One Show pencil out of this, so it was all for a good cause.