DDB New York chief creative officer Matt Eastwood is the man behind the WaterIsLife video of Haitians sarcastically reading tweets posted with the “#FirstWorldProblems” hashtag (video below). The campaign gathered pace over the weekend — it’s now received more than 600,000 views since Oct. 3.
The intention of the ad is to illustrate the vast gulf between the haves in the U.S., tweeting about their heated leather seats, and the have-nots in Haiti, who live in shanty towns and post-earthquake dereliction.
But the ad has had the unintended effect of making a lot of people very angry. Those folks note that the #FirstWorldProblems tag is used ironically, to indicate to readers that the person complaining about being unable to remember the last name of their maid is, in fact, aware of how luxurious their problems are.
We talked to Eastwood on the phone to find out if he really did misunderstand what the hashtag was about, or whether it was intentional.
“We totally understand the irony of it,” he told us. “People are doing it as a joke. It leads to a desensitization around the issue.”
He notes that, prior to the ad, DDB’s research found that the term #FirstWorldProblems was being tweeted at a rate of five every second. Not all of those are ironic tweets, Eastwood believes. “We knew we were going to upset a few people. People in Haiti don’t have the luxuries these guys do.”
He says the ad is intended to “reshape” the meaning of the meme.
Most of the Haitians in the ad came from an orphanage that WIL was in touch with, Eastwood says. About 30 Haitians were filmed in all. Some didn’t speak English, and although they had translators Eastwood says he suspects they weren’t fully cognizant of the nuances of Twitter and its ironic memes.
And — #FirstWorldProblems alert! — the biggest issue was finding Haitians with birth certificates (a 2010 earthquake destroyed much of Haiti’s infrastructure) which were needed “because we needed to make sure we got talent clearances.”