Distracted-driving victims deliver shocking monologues for AT&T's 'It Can Wait' campaign

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Since 2010, AT&T has pushed the dangers of texting while driving to the forefront with its emotionally charged "It Can Wait" campaign. In recent years, it has depicted heart-rending, fictional tragedies resulting from mindless moments of device distraction; it also dug deep into real-life stories, as in a documentary film from Werner Herzog. The latest campaign, from BBDO New York and directed by acclaimed documentary filmmaker Errol Morris, combines fact and fiction as it imagines what could have been for victims of distracted driving.

The effort stars two young men, Caleb Sorohan and Forrest Cepeda. Two spots show them contemplating the would-haves and could-haves of their lives—Sorohan remembers how he wanted to be an athlete or trainer; Cepeda had wanted to make video games. Something kept them from realizing their dreams, but with it's not clear what. On-screen copy ultimately reveals their fate.

The campaign "resurrected" the pair, who had been killed as teenagers—Sorohan due to his own moment of distraction, and Cepeda the victim of someone else's careless texting—with the help of a forensic artist and visual effects from The Mill.

"This evolution of the campaign gets back to the human consequences, the human tragedy of distracted driving," says Ryan Luckey, assistant VP of corporate brand marketing at AT&T. Since the company began the push in 2010, it says 24.5 million consumers have pledged not to drive distracted on its site itcanwait.com.

The campaign has increased awareness that texting while driving is dangerous, Luckey says, but hasn't stopped it. "We have achieved peak awareness, but what we have not achieved is peak behavior," he says. "As technology has gotten more sophisticated and engaging, the issue we're dealing with is changing behavior, and nearly 9 out of 10 people are still doing it."

"When you hear about headlines—a whole family, or a ten-year-old kid lost—you get shocked and them move on," says BBDO Associate Creative Director Bianca Guimaraes. "By laying out the story and imagining where they would be, we're hoping that will get people to stop and think twice before they use their phones."

The stories in the ads continue online in a pair of documentaries from Morris about the other lives shaken by their deaths. "It's not until you actually meet the people who were directly affected, the family members, that you really understand the extent of how this kind of event has really destroyed lives," Morris says.

Forrest's brother told Morris he felt responsible for his brother's death. "I had to interrupt him to say, 'It's not your fault,'" Morris says.

"What we've learned over the course of the entire campaign is that people don't just respond to facts," says BBDO Creative Director Kevin Mulroy. "We were thinking about the true depth of loss of these kinds of events. It's pain and grief that lasts lifetimes."

The families involved worked with AT&T and team for nearly 6 months on the production. "It is tough because you have to continually relive it over and over," says Mandi Sorohan, Caleb's mother.

Sorohan says one of the hardest moments came not when she saw the final film, but when she saw the first work from the forensics artist. "It took my breath away because it really captured his eyes," she says.

The films will be running digitally and in movie theaters starting today, ahead of "Avengers: Infinity War," as well as before "Star Wars: A Solo Story" and "Jurassic World: A Fallen Kingdom" when those films debut later this year.

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