Keep on reapin’ on: The Swim Reaper rises for another summer of water warnings

He hath risen.

The Swim Reaper is back and more determined to collect some ‘flesh sacks’ that don’t take water safety seriously in 2020. This time, with the help from ‘Bertha’ his death prediction machine, and sporting his funky new apparel range.

The Swim Reaper is now a famous influencer, with almost half a million Instagram followers all connecting with his dark, very pointed hatred of humans.

The Swim Reaper was created by FCB in 2016 by Water Safety New Zealand (WSNZ) in partnership with ACC, to target the at-risk demographic of young men aged 16 to 24. Despite making up only 14 per cent of the population, they’re a group that has historically accounted for a high proportion of preventable drowning deaths each year.

However, this year marks a change in his approach. He’s built a machine to predict drownings. Bertha is an antique-looking contraption, that clunks and chugs into life, pouring out black smoke as it calculates the next likely location for an act of dumbness.

But, behind this façade is a one-of-a-kind A.I. bot, that actually works. Using 40 years of water safety data, combined with all the variable conditions which make preventable drownings more likely – weather forecasts, tides, notoriously dangerous locations and even data points such as local access to alcohol – Bertha can make predictions of where and when dumb behaviour is likely to lead to drowning.

For the Swim Reaper, he can now focus his attention where and when he’s more likely to get lucky.

Swim Reapers guardians, FCB senior creatives David Shirley and Melina Fiolitakis, said they were not expecting their creation to be so intensely well received. Especially considering he is meant to repeal humans.

“It’s amazing how much he took off,” says Fiolitakis. “We tend to follow the trends of Instagram and piss-take them a little bit. But we never expected that it would grow as much as it did. He’s sitting at just under 500,000 now. We were stoked when we got to 10,000.”

The reaper only rises over summer, which Shirley says gives them time to plan the content in the winter and shoot three months worth in a couple of days.

“We keep wondering how we’re going to outdo ourselves which is getting harder… It helps that we keep him topical and relevant, so issues such as Instagram removing likes he weighed in on.

“The overall theme of this year is he is going to be reaping smarter, not harder. He hasn’t had successful years recently, as the drowning rate is declining. So now he’s picking up his game with Bertha… The A.I bot picks up the conditions that cause drownings which had really added another layer to him this year.”

This gives the team time to put out timely warnings for safety around the water, and use the reapers facade to create a warning that will hopefully be acknowledged through the dark irony.

Shirley says the way dark irony is used is more likely to have an effect on the younger generations who, “do dumb shit.”

“Messages of safety and health historically have not been done very interestingly. It does tend to be a telling off more than anything. We’ve brought our own to it by using a tone these people are more likely to connect with.”

To fund his death reaping, the Swim Reaper also has an apparel range to target the audiences that like to wear their edginess on their bodies.

“The towel came through the idea that if people were wearing them on beaches in New Zealand, it would be a constant reminder of what is at stake, and at the same time is a clever way for the Swim Reaper to show he is building his army and recruiting disciples through reverse psychology,” says Fiolitakis.

Yet the Swim Reapers move into high fashion is something the creatives thought about carefully, as now rather than just monitored social posts, the reapers influencer will be out in public.

“It is always interesting when it goes to a wider audience,” says Fiolitakis. “In Instagram, we’ve got people who’ve chosen to follow it and we’re targeting people who are in that audience. Sometimes you can get a different reaction when it goes in front of people.”

“For the younger people, it tends to go over their heads,” says Shirley. “The only issues we’ve had are from older people getting offended on behalf of the younger people who don’t care. But the benefit is still people talking about them and sharing the message.”

The Swim Reaper will continue to rear his head during summer 2020, as Bertha and himself scour our beaches for the perfect drowning conditions. Hopefully scaring some people away in the process.

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