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Watch: New ICF Olson PSA is a Parent's Worst Nightmare

Sep 27, 2017 2 MIN. READ

Active supervision is key to preventing water-related accidents.

How long does it take to drown: 10, 20 seconds? A few minutes? When supervising their children near water, most parents take that long to check an email, a mistake that the latest advertisement from the Canadian Red Cross (CRC) turns into a terrifying visual experience.


The minute-long film takes on the point-of-view of Sam, a child being led into a typical suburban weekend gathering. Sam navigates the sea of kneecaps and Pottery Barn furniture to find the swimming pool, every kid’s all-inclusive dream getaway.

Sam slips into the backyard unnoticed. It’s quiet, without a 30-something in sight. Then, we see the enticing inflatable ball that seems close enough to the ledge. As Sam careens into the pool, we’re thrust into two worlds of agony: a drowning child and a parent’s guilt.

“The idea formed from the notion of using the common internet video trope of ‘we put a camera on an unknown agent to see what would happen. In our case, what happens is meant to shock the viewer,” said Dylan Gerard, Executive Creative Director at ICF Olson. “I wanted to turn it upside down as a cautionary tale around what can actually happen to unsupervised kids at the pool."

Gerard, a Canada-based veteran in creative agency services, was sitting poolside with his children on vacation when the idea occurred. He handed his iPhone to his son, pressed ‘record’, and watched the miniature Spielberg roam free and document the lifetime memories.

That’s when Gerard realized how quickly a home movie can turn into a horror film. The jarring shock factor isn’t just the sound of the child’s helpless, waterlogged gasps for air, nor is it the nightmarish desperation in the mother’s voice as the screen goes black. It’s the art of bait-and-switch, of lulling the viewer into a familiar scenario before turning the screw.

“I’ve seen people turn pale when Sam falls in the water,” Gerard said. “That’s a success to me. I want them to carry that feeling near water so that their kids are supervised and never left unattended. I wanted to share my fear.”

Inciting Action Through Awareness 

The concept floated around ICF Olson before the Canadian Red Cross eventually emerged as a potential partner. The CRC was already focusing awareness efforts on water safety for August 2017. Creative teams from both camps collaborated to plan, write, and gain approvals to execute pure, visceral terror on camera.

“Most PSA advertising tends to lean on so-called ‘sadvertising’,” Gerard said. “If this video ruined your day, it was a success.”

Indeed, the advertisement’s hyper-realistic tone forgoes any formulaic slow-piano soundtrack for the subtler sounds of a clueless, innocent child talking to him/herself. It also intentionally leaves Sam’s gender and ethnicity ambiguous, to emphasize that regardless of identity, drowning can happen to any unattended child.

The main message of the video and the out-of-home campaign is that children require active supervision near water at all times. The video’s director, Andrew Chiu of Toronto’s SRRNDR Inc., partnered with Gerard to show what can happen when parents check Facebook as their children play near water.

There are other tips, such as having a fence around your pool with self-closing and self-latching gates, and, importantly, to learn first aid. But the primary message is to be present.

“Every year children in Canada drown, a tragic and preventable reality,” said Carolyn Tees, Director of Business Development at the CRC. One child death is too many, and we hope this ad impresses upon parents the importance of actively supervising children around water. And it may even save a life.”

To learn more about supervising young children around water, check out the CRC list of resources and tips on backyard pool safety and guidance for parents, guardians, and babysitters. 

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