It’s Effing Water


In January, we featured Public’s “It’s Effing Water” as a bold campaign that was taking risks and making waves. We recently connected with Phillip Haid, Public’s Founder & CEO, to get a behind-the-scenes look at the campaign.


How did your partnership with First Peoples Group come about? Why was the issue of boil-water advisories in Indigenous communities important for you to address?

We first met through our work with The Bay. We asked Guy Freedman (one of the founding partners) if he would talk to our entire team about the National Day for Truth & Reconciliation; he came in and did an amazing talk for our team. He’s a compelling storyteller and we were incredibly inspired. We connected afterward to see how we could work together, and we didn’t land on anything immediately but decided to keep in touch.

We do an annual holiday give back campaign. This year, we wanted to continue the kind of work we’d done on a campaign with Uniqlo highlighting the plight of a refugee family, only closer to home. 

So many Indigenous communities in Canada lack access to water and live under boil water advisories. After the Trudeau government failed to meet its March 2021 deadline to end long-term boil water advisories on First Nations, it sparked a bunch of ideas for our campaign. The team really wanted to lean into the idea of “Reconciliaction.

How did Kurt Browning come to be involved?

Our Creative Director Jon Lane has a background in figure skating. Both of his parents are coaches and were able to connect us to Kurt. We wanted someone who would resonate with a non-Indigenous audience who don’t know Indigenous issues as well.

This isn’t the first time dropping f-bombs has been a highly effective attention grabber for Public. Tell us a little about how last year’s #EFF2020 campaign dovetailed into this one.

#EFF2020 debuted the previous year and had fantastic success. We reached over five million people completely organically, and raised over $50K for the Mental Health Coalition.

Something we debated was, do we continue the theme of outrage this year? Do we do the sequel to 2020? When you don’t have a budget to put behind a campaign, tapping into people’s disgust and anger on important social issues is a good way to generate attention. We knew this would make people uncomfortable, but this is true to the same message we always tell our clients: take risks.

In addition to the salty language, there is a direct call-out of the Prime Minister and the government. What kind of reactions did the campaign generate? 

We did have the Minister of Indigenous Services comms department reach out; they weren’t particularly pleased. We had a good and constructive conversation; they felt we said things that weren’t factually correct. They were taking our wording literally i.e. “the government has done f*ck all”) – we explained they needed to be called out for not following through on promises. Lots of people reached out to their offices, and as the views indicate (1.5 million), this clearly resonated with people. 

With EFF2020 we had lightning in a bottle – it was an issue lots of people knew and cared about. The issues highlighted in Effing Water weren’t as much on the national radar, which means a bigger lift. But we’re still very pleased with the response.

Just last month when we featured the campaign, the petition demanding that the government act was at 10K signatures. Now it’s at 50K. Were the results what you hoped for? 

Over 65K people have signed the petition and our goal was 10K. But what we would love more is actual actions. Getting the government to act. The fact that the Minister’s office felt the pressure is great but would have loved for more. All in all we feel like we accomplished our mission. If we can educate people, that’s success in our eyes (given the parameters of the campaign).

Is there anything you’d do differently?

If we were working with a client; we would say – it’s one thing to raise awareness (this is great), but these are outputs, not outcomes. We would love to build out a medium-to-longer term strategy to link education to action. We funded this ourselves as a short-term campaign. People were generous with their time, but we didn’t have the capacity to keep it going beyond the holidays. 

If we’d had more time, and the capacity to reach more influencers and big-name celebrities, would surely have helped our reach.

What’s your advice to creatives who want to use bolder messaging, take more risks and have a greater impact with their campaigns?

It’s so easy to say “take more risks” but it’s hard to actually do. You need to have clients that are willing to be courageous – you can only push people as far as they are ready to go. Some brands are willing to go here, for others it’s just not in their DNA. Build up trust in your client relationships and hopefully they’ll get comfortable following your guidance when it comes to taking risks.

People will always worry about the blowback. You have to be willing to take the positive with the negative – you’ll never make everyone happy.

Build the relationships, push yourself, get out of your comfort zone. You need to take more risks to get your message through, especially with limited budgets.