By Amy Houston | Senior Reporter

July 6, 2023 | 7 min read

Don’t Panic’s spot for the charity highlights the impact donations have had rather than showcasing the need for them.

Creative agency Don’t Panic and director Elena Petitti di Roreto are behind a new ad for WaterAid that tells the story of a young Malawian girl, Lucia.

The spot shows the chief of her community announcing that they now have clean and reliable water. As the crowd celebrates, Lucia stands quietly, eyes focused on the cup of fresh water held by the elder.

When the moment is right, she sprints toward the water pump and grabs the cup, running to deliver it to her grandmother who has spent her life without clean water so she can be the first to drink.

When they started on the project in October, the team knew the only way they could do it justice was to immerse themselves in the communities they were featuring, explains Ellie Moore, strategy partner at Don’t Panic.

“The brief was to continue to build consideration for WaterAid. It wanted the script and concept to be built around a universal human truth. It had to be emotionally compelling. It is quite refreshing as a client because it put that first and is quite happy not to force all the information that it wants to get across.”

Prior to shooting the ad or even writing the script, Moore and the agency’s creative partner, Rick Dodds, flew out to the East African country for 10 days. It was a crucial move and they were welcomed with a huge ceremony that had them up dancing until 5am.

Dodds explains: “You’re talking about the stories of a community you can’t visualize because you don’t know anybody there and you’ve never seen it. You start to fill in the gaps with a sort of western knowledge.” Which is exactly what the team did not want to happen.

It was a life-changing trip for the pair, who say that being invited into a community was a unique opportunity and one that could have only happened through the partnership with WaterAid.

“We were just chatting to people, getting to know their lives,” says Dodds. “Not specifically about water because you can read that in a textbook, that is factual, but just about what makes them tick, what they laugh about and what their relationships are like with their children or the elders.”

It was a rare experience and something they tried to build as much as possible into a full picture. It was as much emotional as it was practical, says Dodds, to see life in action.

Representation and respect were key, he says, and speaking to different communities meant they weren’t only showing one group of people and could home in on authentic and accurate truths.

“Usually, you don’t get to do these trips – and even if you do shoot in the country, you’re not going there until you’re actually shooting, by which point you’re so far down the line,” adds Moore. “My job is understanding the UK context, audience and the insights that are going resonate with them. You can try as hard as you can to acknowledge or appreciate the context of the country that you are talking about, but without going, and without having that experience, you’re always going to be biased.”

The trip, creatively, gave them so many more tools to work with having been immersed in the culture and having had conversations first-hand. With the script then in place, it was time to cast for the ad. They asked everyone who was interested in being in involved to come along and, during that process, the community stood and watched, cheering on the youngsters. Lucia, the protagonist, really wanted the role and turned out to be perfect for it.

When viewers see her cheekily grab the cup from the leader’s hand, that really had to be thought out meticulously – disrespecting elders is not something that is tolerated.

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Anonymous Content’s Elena Petitti di Roreto lent her director’s touch to the film and with positive energy a must throughout the three days of shooting, she was the perfect fit. “We knew we needed somebody with a strong visual aesthetic,” says Dodds. “With something like this, you’re not only casting for a director in terms of their ability as a filmmaker, but you’re casting their personality as well.” Embracing the ‘how’ you make it and not just the ‘what’ you make was important throughout the entire project and she was able to capture how beautiful a country Malawi is.

“Sometimes there’s a tendency not to show that,” says Moore. “The problem is that people don’t have water and the solution is that they now do. That’s what you’re landing on and, from a fundraising perspective, that’s the most important part. Demonstrating the vibrancy of the country, how beautiful the landscape is and the energy of the people doesn’t detract from that.”

Water is something people in the UK take for granted, so what the charity wants to do is create an emotional connection between audiences here and communities like the one in Malawi.

One of the truths they found on the trip that is universal is that there are such strong relationships between kids and their grandparents, which is why the intergenerational story is at the heart of this ad. It’s a sweet interaction and it hits home for viewers.

The time invested into this project has resulted in a more genuine, authentic and standout execution and Dodds concludes: “This would have looked and felt very different if you had shot this with actors in a general location. It would not have the fabric that’s in this film. It has been a unique way to work, inviting the community to collaborate on it.”

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