MediaSmarts brings back the ‘House Hippos’

The non-profit relaunches a much-loved PSA as part of a campaign to educate children about online disinformation.


According to a new PSA, house hippos have returned to infest Canadian homes – which is something you might think if you believe everything you see or read online.

The original “House Hippos” PSA was created in 1999 by the now-defunct non-profit Concerned Children’s Advertisers, which worked to promote media literacy and responsible advertising to children, along with agency partner Publicis. The new spot, from digital and media literacy non-profit MediaSmarts, takes a similar approach to the original – a documentary-style narrator describing the habits of a rodent-sized hippo as it roams a Canadian household – but adds some modern touches, such as showing the hippo using a tablet or riding a robotic vaccuum. The new voiceover then chimes in, directly calling out “how easy it is to be fooled in our digital world.”

The video is part of this year’s “Break The Fake” campaign from MediaSmarts, launched ahead of Media Literacy Week, which begins Oct. 7 and will feature over 100 media literacy-related activities across the country. The campaign is driving to the “Break The Fake” website, which include guides for how to verify information online and education material for both parents and teachers.

“House Hippos” was a much-loved and highly recognizable PSA for Canadians who grew up in the late 90s and early 2000s – CCA previously re-launched the campaign in 2002 – the to point that MediaSmarts is using a silhouette of a hippo for the “Break The Fake” logo.

But the concept of media literacy has evolved in the last two decades. What used to mean simply educating people on the technical and business elements of advertising and the media to help them better understand the information that is presented to them, now has to contend with the ease at which disinformation spreads online and concepts like “fake news.” According to a poll by Ipsos and the Centre for International Governance Innovation, 86% of Canadians admit to “falling for” fake news at least once, while MediaSmarts’ own research showed misinformation was the top concern for parents when it came to their kids being online, ahead of things like cyberbulling and violence.

“Many Canadians remember the little hippos fondly, so we thought they were the perfect reminder that just because we want something to be true, doesn’t mean we should believe it,” said Kathryn Ann Hill, executive director at MediaSmarts.

The new “House Hippos” spot was created by Ottawa agency HyperActive. In addition to full-length and 10-second cut-down videos being pushed through social channels, it will be airing on TV through in-kind media from Bell and APTN.