The Deconstructed Brief

The Swim Reaper

The Swim Reaper

Brand: Water Safety New Zealand

Agency: FCB New Zealand


Raise awareness among young guys about the dumb behavior that leads to drownings. Males 15-24 are responsible for roughly one-third of all drowning deaths in New Zealand.

One Thought:

Swim dumb, and you’re done.


You can’t tell young guys to be safe. The Swim Reaper went the opposite direction by encouraging them to kill themselves. The character popped up at swimming spots to peddle stupidity. It posted bad advice on Instagram, Snapchat and Facebook. (My favorite: “This is what I call ‘swimmin’ juice.’ Knock back a few of these and just relax into drowning.”) The Swim Reaper posted positive comments on social media of guys doing dangerous things around water. 

The result: There were zero drowning deaths during the peak swimming season when this campaign was running. Lives were saved by encouraging death.

Lessons to be learned:

  • Go dark — Dark comedy can resonate with a cynical audience. The Swim Reaper’s deeply black sense of humor earned a big following on social media. Fans helped spread the dark message.
  • Create for the platform — Half of young men in New Zealand don’t watch any TV at all, but 64 percent regularly use Instagram. The Swim Reaper content was created specifically for social media. It looked and felt like the kind of thing you see regularly see in your feed (with a dark twist). It interacted with other people. The campaign reached 82 percent of men 15-24 in New Zealand, according to FCB New Zealand.

What they told Facebook

From the Facebook Awards nomination: “We needed to cut through the noise and engage with this group in a relevant way. Then we could start a conversation with them and even get them to spread our message for us — especially important, given the modest budget.”