The American Red Cross Wants You to Prank Your Roommates

The 'Wake Up Challenge' is a fun stunt for a cause

The majority of home fire deaths happen during the night when people are sleeping. American Redcross
Headshot of Erik Oster

The American Red Cross and Arnold Worldwide are turning to audiences on social media to get the message out about home fire safety awareness—with a prank.

The majority of home fire deaths happen during the night when people are sleeping. That’s why the Red Cross rolled out its newest stunt, “Wake Up Challenge,” which dares you to find a creative way to wake a friend or family member and share the video via social media (presumably after obtaining their permission). Hey, it’s for a good cause!

The organization’s vp of marketing, Selma Bouhl, said the goal is to “bring widespread awareness to the prevalence of home fires and the simple steps people can take to keep their families safe.”

“Sadly, home fires claim more lives on average than all natural disasters combined, and yet, unlike other disasters, many of these deaths and injuries are preventable,” she told Adweek, adding that steps such as maintaining working smoke alarms and practicing an escape route can drastically reduce the risk of death from a home fire.

Almost a third (31 percent) of people never wake up in a home fire due to a lack of a smoke alarm, according to the Red Cross. “[A] fire is disorienting enough, but when it happens in the middle of the night, you need every tool possible to alert you and help you get to safety,” Bouhl added.

Rather than rely on the frightening statistics around home fires, which Bouhl said people tend to tune out, the organization knew it needed to try something new to attract the public’s attention.

“We believe that taking a humorous and personally engaging approach will be more effective in getting the attention we want,” she added.

Arnold ecd James Bray added that the team was worried they’d get “lost in the shuffle” if they went down “the typical PSA route.” So the agency opted to try something “energetic” and “fun” to reach a younger audience and “get people involved in a more lighthearted way to help raise awareness. We felt that was the only way we would be able to disrupt people enough to actually take notice.”

The challenge was introduced with a promotional segment on Jimmy Kimmel Live! last night, featuring the show’s staffers engaging in their own creative wake-up calls.

Bray explained that Arnold thought Kimmel would be the right partner based on his annual “I Told My Kids I Ate All Their Halloween Candy” segment.

“I think we, as a country, are kind of obsessed with seeing people get surprised and scared and shocked,” he said, something he hopes translates into success for “Wake Up Challenge.”

The campaign relies on people spreading its message on social media using the #WakeUpChallenge hashtag and uploading their own videos, with the the help of a few social media influencers. YouTubers Sara Dietschy and Yes Theory are among the social media influencers Arnold Worldwide worked with on the campaign.

https://www.instagram.com/p/BiSR6rHh-ho/

Still, that reliance on audience participation is not without risk or uncertainty.

“It’s scary,” Bray said. “You just don’t know if your idea is going to be sticky enough for people to go ‘I want to do that and I want to challenge my friends to do it.”

Brouhl said that after the campaign, American Red Cross will analyze the results and “apply those learnings to future campaigns as we consider their objectives, audiences, awareness around the specific issue at hand.”

“One area of learning for us will be around user generated content—are the risks indeed manageable and outweighed by the reward?” she added.

In addition to spreading awareness, the “Wake Up Challenge” calls on viewers to donate to the organization to provide free smoke alarms. The American Red Cross is in the process of installing 100,000 free smoke alarms in over 100 cities by May 13, which Bouhl said will be an annual event going forward.


@ErikDOster erik.oster@adweek.com Erik Oster is an agencies reporter for Adweek.