#FirstWorldProblems Hashtag Is Hijacked in DDB's Campaign for Clean Water

Turning an ironic gesture on its head

Devising a high-impact humanitarian campaign is a first-world problem that DDB New York solves in stirring fashion on behalf of WaterIsLife. With close to 1 million YouTube views in a week, the "First World Problems" anthem is generating plenty of conversation, along with some consternation and lots of visibility for the cause—providing clean water to third-world countries. In the 60-second spot, against the backdrop of their earthquake- and poverty-ravaged homeland, Haitians, many of them orphans, read actual tweets that people jokingly marked with the #FirstWorldProblems hashtag. The tweets catalog non-problems of the well-fed, such as wonky WiFi, misplaced remote controls and the frustration of a botched lunch order ("I tell them no pickles and they still give me pickles"). The best scene is the kid perched on cracked cement steps who informs us that he hates "when I have to write my maid a check, but I forget her last name." Other videos feature responses to specific tweets. When someone moans, "There really isn't anything worse than leaving your headphones at home," the kid on the steps sweetly responds, "If I was there, I'd get them for you." Sure, the campaign is guilt-inducing and manipulative in the extreme—note the Hollywood-style framing of the ruined structure, with the sunlight streaming in as if from another world. Even so, it manages to steer clear of overkill or self-parody, and packs significant punch. (These are, after all, real people who are struggling mightily to survive against stiff odds every day.) Some say it's disingenuous to reference #FirstWorldProblems at all, as messages so tagged are intended as ironic (one would hope). DDB counters that even parody can have a desensitizing effect, and that the work is intended at the very least to make folks think before they tweet. I'm struck by the media-centric, meta nature of the entire project. Harnessing a spoof hashtag in PSAs to drum up press coverage, popular support and donations—how first world can you get?