Reaping Smarter, Not Harder

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World-famous anti-influencer, the Swim Reaper is returning to our waters this summer, with his first fashion range and a machine built to help him predict drownings.

The most darkly comedic safety campaign in New Zealand history is back. Internationally-acclaimed anti-influencer, the Swim Reaper, is heading into a new season with a new attitude. He’s reaping smarter, not harder.

The Swim Reaper was created 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 have historically accounted for a high proportion of preventable drowning deaths each year.

Through his dark comedy, the Swim Reaper encourages dumb behaviour around water, ironically pointing out the deadly consequences in the process.   

Not your average social campaign, the Swim Reaper’s Instagram has made global headlines and amassed over 450,000 rabid followers. They don’t just follow him – they comment in their thousands, create fan art for him and even get him tattooed on their bodies.    

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 a drowning. For the Swim Reaper, this is great – he can focus his attention where and when he’s more likely to get lucky. For Water Safety NZ, it means they can put out timely and highly relevant warnings that young swimmers will actually listen to, because they’re framed in the Reaper’s darkly comedic style.

CEO of WSNZ Jonty Mills says, “Data is becoming increasingly important to how we deliver water safety messages and is a powerful tool for helping us target those messages in the most effective way to prevent drownings. The Swim Reaper has already become world-famous and, more importantly had a huge impact on preventable drownings in this country. By using data, we hope the campaign will have an even greater one in future.”

As a further step in his plan to work smarter this year, Swim Reaper is taking this opportunity to launch his first ever clothing range – black hooded towels, which he’ll be selling to his followers. Each towel comes with an ironically pro-drowning mantra embroidered into the back. That way his likeness and message will be carried to every New Zealand swimming spot, without the Reaper having to lift a bony finger. The towels will be sold via shoppable posts on Instagram.

Mr Mills added, “We’re always looking for new ways to get people thinking about water safety and the Swim Reaper merchandise will be yet another way to remind people about what can happen if you don’t respect the water. We need everyone to think about water safety this summer, make smart decisions and come home safely to their families. The hope is that each time a black hooded towel is seen this summer, it comes as a timely warning.”

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