#FirstWorldProblems and Viral Charity Campaigns

Nonprofit organizations and charities don’t have the same PR/marketing budget that private companies and government entities do, so when it comes to raise awareness for fundraising campaigns, their outreach is very minimal and simple.

Now, thanks to social media, engaging potential donors in the global community is much easier now that users can follow the organizations on Twitter, stay updated on Facebook fan pages and watch videos on YouTube. Emails and letters begging for donations aren’t the best mechanisms to grab someone’s attention or convince them to care; it’s all about the perfect viral sensation that gets people buzzing. The Oklahoma-based nonprofit, Water is Life, has done just that thanks to their new ad called #FirstWorldProblems, created by the DDB New York ad agency.

The ad references the popular Twitter hashtag #FirstWorldProblems, an ironic shoutout people use when discussing their daily trivial inconveniences. Real Haitian villagers are featured, standing amidst a backdrop of impoverished homes and street corners reading actual  #FirstWorldProblems tweets.

“I hate it when I forget my maid’s name,” a young man says in the middle of a shack.

“I hate it when I leave my clothes in the washer so long it starts to smell,” one girl says standing in front of a river where people are bent over, washing their clothes.

“I hate it when my phone charger won’t reach my bed,” a young girl says in front of a school bus.

The tweets are meant to be tongue-in-cheek and understanding of how silly those problems are, but the DDB New York agency said in a press release that they want to eliminate the use of the “insensitive” #FirstWorldProblems hashtag.

“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.”

The release goes on to say that the campaign isn’t meant to humiliate the tweeters but there has still been some negative backlash towards it. What’s strange is that in the original ad, the actors only read out anonymous tweets, but the organization has release more videos featuring specific people who have used the #FirstWorldProblems hashtag.

The original ad has racked up approximately 1.4 million views on YouTube as of October 13, igniting mixed reactions in the comment section. Some users say they now feel bad about a viral trend they used to think was funny, while others remark that it’s not their fault they are rich and the hashtag was only a joke. The users that successfully retained the message that the agency wanted were in the middle ground, by admitting their problems aren’t that significant as those who live in poverty, feeling sudden guilt and wanting to donate.

The release states that the campaign also has a number of endorsements from celebrities like Kara DioGuardi, Bella Thorne and Christina Milian, who will be sharing the videos through their networks.

Regardless of the nerve this campaign touched, as a whole, it seems to be quite successful. Integrating a popular social media reference allows your campaign to immediately become relevant to a large population and personally connect with them (in a good or bad way.) It set off a conversation about comparing “first world” and “third world” problems and what responsibility we have to donate to the charity. I personally am happy people are actually critically discussing the source of these problems and what the concept of “first world” even means.

Nonprofits have a tricky balancing act in not being too emotional and sappy that potential donors are turned off by donation drives, but also not being too serious and fact-driven. WaterisLife clearly wanted a compelling ad that would motivate people to “help solve real problems,” which for the organization specifically revolves around “bringing clean water to those in need – short and long term – saving lives and transforming communities.”

Do you think this #FirstWorldProblems campaign was demeaning to the Twitter users and/or Haitians who had to read the tweets? Was this a gross misunderstanding of a social media trend that could hurt the charity’s future outreach efforts? Or do you think it was an appropriate, original way to start a conversation and generate donations for WaterisLife?

Originally posted on Textifying: Trends and Issues in Public Relations.

One thought on “#FirstWorldProblems and Viral Charity Campaigns

  1. I hope it wasn’t hurtful, and that we learn from our deeds that sometimes weren’t thought through. We read in 21st Century Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, “Humility, honesty, and charity have divine authority.” Thanks for your thoughts.

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