Ad Campaign Exposes the Irony of #FirstWorldProblems Meme

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Marco Werman: There's a new phrase you may have been picking up in current lingo, "first world problems". You know, someone says something like, "It sucks having a house so big I can never find anything," and then person number two replies, "Yeah, first world problems." Well, there's an ad agency in New York, DDB, that is dealing with this "sucks to be me in America" attitude head-on in a new video campaign. Here's an excerpt.

[Clip plays]
Girl 1: I hate when my phone charger won't reach my bed.

Boy: I hate when my leather seats aren't heated.

Man: When I go to the bathroom and I forget my phone.

Girl 2: [Speaking Creole]
[Clip ends]

Werman: It's kind of hard to hear, but what you've got in the video are ordinary people in Haiti, kids and adults, parroting straight into the camera some of the first world problems that people tweet about. One of those kids said, "I hate it when my leather seats aren't heated." You can see what I'm talking about at The video was created for Water is Life, a non-profit group that works to provide clean water for those in need. It's one of the first campaigns to try and reverse trend a popular hashtag on Twitter. The hashtag in this case is #FirstWorldProblems. Matt Eastwood is chief creative officer at DDB New York, the agency that created the spot. Matt, was there one specific tweet that set this campaign in motion?

Matt Eastwood: Not really. The reality is that as we started developing the campaign, we realized that there are approximately 5 first world problem tweets per second. It's one of the biggest trends on Twitter, so there's a lot.

Werman: So what did you set out to do with these ad spots? I mean I know one press release says "DDB wants to eliminate the hashtag #FirstWorldProblems.

Eastwood: We were working on a brief for Water is Life and at that exact time one of the guys working on the brief, his air conditioner at home broke down and he was complaining that he had to pay two hundred dollars get it fixed and should he pay it or should the landlord pay it, and that contrast between this country of people who don't have access to clean water is so in contrast to that that it has really struck us as a big idea.

Werman: Did you ever feel as if maybe these Haitians were being exploited? That you were maybe exploiting them, I mean admittedly, to make a point about the division between the poor and the wealthy? But still I mean what are they getting out of it?

Eastwood: The big thing they are getting donations and donations are massively up at Water is Life. Water is Life is an organization that funds and builds wells, so we are helping them raise money.

Werman: Have you gotten any responses from people who wrote one of the original featured complaints on Twitter?

Eastwood: We have actually, and it's funny. People, they have a little bit of a Homer Simpson moment. They're like, "D'oh!". They feel a bit embarrassed, like, "Oh, I can't believe I was complaining about I left my headphones in my car," or whatever.

Werman: Well, Matt, since you and DDB created the ad, let me put you in the role of ethicist for a moment. I mean I feel the pain too because I have used the phrase "first world problems" in passing. I mean don't people who use the phrase essentially cop to their cushy lives and recognize that they have this really insignificant problems compared to everybody else? I mean doesn't self-awareness count for something?

Eastwood: The reality is they're absolutely aware of what they're doing when they're doing it, but I think the continual use of it does desensitize us to the realities of real problems in the third world. We just felt like you can keep tweeting first world problems, but maybe if we could just get everyone to have a little second thought every time they did that, then I think we've achieved our goal.

Werman: Well, listeners can see the DDB campaign at our website, Matt Eastwood, chief creative officer at DDB New York. Thanks so much.

Eastwood: My pleasure.