Ad Council's 'family fire' takes direct shot at loaded guns in the home

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The first step in tackling a problem is identifying it. That's the thinking behind a new effort from the Ad Council and the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence designed to promote gun safety in the home.

The organizations today are introducing a new term: "family fire," aimed at preventing shootings that result from improperly stored weapons or misuse of firearms in households.

The idea for "family fire" takes inspiration from now familiar terms that have helped to address other epidemics in our country: secondhand smoke, designated driver, friendly fire. "Our goal is to make 'family fire' a part of the vernacular in an attempt to change behavior and save lives," says Lisa Sherman, president and CEO of the Ad Council.

The campaign begins today with a focus on young victims -- its launch date, 8/8, is a nod to the number of children or teens who are injured each day as the result of "family fire." A study from the New York Academy of Medicine found that more than 4.6 million kids live in homes with guns that are unlocked and loaded, and three out of four of them know where those guns are kept.

Droga5 New York was behind the campaign, which is also being supported by the Gun Safety Alliance, the group of marketers who have come together to address gun safety issues in the States, with the help of the advertising community.

The effort aims to be a platform that all sides around the gun issue can rally around. "This really came from a desire to fundamentally change the landscape with regards to gun violence prevention," says Ky Hunter, VP of programs at the Brady Center. "A lot of Americans are feeling we're at a stalemate in this conversation. There are staunch sides -- one says we need guns to protect ourselves, the other says all guns are bad. But like most issues, the vast majority is in the middle." The Brady Center sought to create "something independent of any politics, completely non-partisan and non-political," she says.

Hunter, who's also a Marine veteran, says the campaign is unique in that it brings into the conversation a group that has traditionally been left out: gun owners. "They're the people we want to talk to," she says. "I'm a gun owner myself, I grew up in the gun culture. A large majority of owners feel excluded. This is about engaging gun owners and making them part of the solution, not the problem."

With that brief, Droga5 went across the country talking to many families of gun owners. The idea "really came out of the conversations we had," says Droga5 Creative Partner Duncan Marshall. "They all boiled down to closeness and love and fear" about families wanting to protect their own, he says.

The creatives took a page from the idea of "friendly fire."

"Any death in any field of warfare is terrible, but there's something especially poignant about friendly fire, a dreadful mistake, avoidable but yet it happens," says Marshall. When it comes to family fire, "There's no more tragic a death than when it's by someone you love."

"We wanted to tap into that emotion, rather than throw facts around," Hunter says.

To promote the term, the campaign is taking a multi-tiered approach. It includes a powerful PSA directed by Here Be Dragons' Jim Cummings that captures an unsettling exchange between a father and his young son. The boy presses his dad with increasingly detailed (and weird) questions about the gun they have at home: "Can I play with it? … Where do you keep it? … I bet it's on the top shelf of the closet under your sweatshirts. Is it loaded? … You always told me to be curious. Remember when I found my Christmas gifts? I'm a good climber, you know." All the while the father grows increasingly uncomfortable, perhaps questioning the security of the weapon in his home.

Ultimately, the conversation ends abruptly. The son disappears from the picture, and we're not quite sure what exactly happened to him.

"It's deliberately cryptic because we wanted people at the end of the spot to think, 'What did I see here?'" Marshall explains. "'Did I see a straight conversation between a dad and his son, something that was just in the father's imagination? Was he thinking of a conversation he should have, or that he did have, or should have had with his son who tragically got hold of a gun and harmed himself?'"

Marshall says the hope was that the idea ends up sitting with the viewer, so they too start questioning themselves.

The campaign also includes a website, endfamilyfire.org, where visitors can find simple steps on how to make their homes safe if they have a gun.

To seed the term "family fire," the teams behind the initiative have reached out to editorial boards and reporters who cover gun violence, asking them to use the term when reporting on stories dealing with gun tragedies primarily linked to weapons not safely stored in the home. Hunter says that the effort is also leveraging platforms of influencers from military, law enforcement groups and others who have a lot of cred in the gun-owner community and it's banking on strategic partnerships with groups like the American Psychological Association, the Parent Teacher Association, the National Association of Social Workers, among others.

The effort will run nationwide, across multiple platforms with significant media commitments from companies including Fox Networks Group, Refinery29, Meredith, Conde Nast and support with strategy and outreach from Zenith USA.

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