#FirstWorldProblems, as Read by Poverty-Stricken Haitians

A clever ad campaign for the charity WATERisLIFE highlights the discrepancy between First- and Third-World problems.

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Sometimes the grim reality of life in the First World is just so hard that you have to tweet about it.

“I hate when my house is so big that I need two wireless routers,” one brave Twitter user lamented.

The hashtag #FirstWorldProblems is one of the social media service’s most popular memes; up to five tweets per second are sent describing (it must be said, ironically) the trials and tribulations of life in the developed world.

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For global advertising firm DDB and WATERisLIFE, a nonprofit that aims to bring clean drinking water to impoverished countries, that sounded like a marketing opportunity.

A team from the two companies traveled to Haiti — the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, with an average salary of $100 a year — to create an ad campaign in which Haitians respond to #FirstWorldProblems tweets.

For example, on Oct. 2, a Twitter user with the handle @DanJordan2001 sent this message:

In the WATERisLIFE video response, a small, smiling boy named Sadrock from the town of Limbé, Haiti, says, “If I was there I would get them for you.”

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“We know [these tweets are] meant to be ironic,” Matt Eastwood, chief creative officer at DDB New York, says. “We’re trying to reframe the discussion.  Our aim is ultimately to effect the way that hashtag goes out there and maybe try to reduce the usage of it.”

Even the Haitians involved in the videos got the joke, including a boy named Kerlin, whose segment pans from a large pig to a crumbling brick building and says “I hate when I tell them no pickles and they still give me pickles.”

“Kerlin laughed when we asked him to recite that line,” Bender says. “For them, the first world problem tweets were funny because the ‘problems’ that we were describing were so mundane.”

The response to the ad campaign has largely been positive; Eastwood estimates that more than one-third of tweets carrying the #FirstWorldProblems hashtag have been in response to the project.

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However, the campaign isn’t without controversy. Niclas Hellberg, a London-based blogger, charged the project with fabricating the tweets and arranging to have them posted by people associated with the ad agency, as well as providing scripted responses to the Haitians featured in the videos.

Eastwood admits that the tweets were written by DDB and tweeted by people who were aware of the project.  However, he said through an agency spokesperson that the tweets were crafted to resemble several others that had been sent out under the meme.  DDB also chose not to run actual tweets in order to prevent the Twitter users who wrote them from being harassed.

Other critics say that DDB and WATERisLIFE’s campaign may be a bit misleading. Emer O’Toole, a columnist at the Guardian, praises the videos for drawing attention to the issue buts says that DDB “wussed out.” She criticized the ad for “missing a screaming irony,” using scripted dialogue and oversimplifying a very complex issue. “You don’t see tweets like ‘I have a chronically ill child and no health insurance’ under #FirstWorldProblems, but these situations exist,” she said.

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