Sandy Hook Promise this month debuted “Back-to-School Essentials,” the organization’s biggest effort to date from BBDO New York designed to reinforce its message that, if you know the warning signs, gun violence can be avoidable. The spot garnered widespread attention for its shocking approach: It starts out as a typical, saccharine back-to-school ad, but progressively devolves into a bone-chilling message about the reality children face today. In prepping for the new school year, perhaps pupils’ most important gear will be objects that keep them alive.
In the commercial, children show off their new school gear, like running shoes, writing implements and socks, which as the ad progresses turn out to have a horrifying dual purpose: They enable kids to flee from a shooter, defend themselves, or even stanch bleeding wounds.
The ad’s impact was powerful and immediate. According to agency figures, it earned more than 26 million views within 24 hours of its release and was shared by numerous celebrities and at least a dozen presidential candidates. The Sandy Hook Promise website also saw a 500% increase in visitors compared to the previous year.
The spot’s compelling concept and sharp writing, along with fastidious attention to craft, combine to create a message that can bring a viewer to tears, no matter how many times it’s viewed. Ad Age spoke with the people behind the ad to find out what went into making the powerful piece.
So far this year, the U.S. experienced at least 22 school shootings. Bianca Guimarães, BBDO VP and creative director, says the brief from the client was for a piece to launch during the back-to-school period and “remind people of the new normal, that kids are being taught how to survive shootings.”
As for choosing the back-to-school ad premise, “we looked at a lot of ideas and one of our teams stumbled on that great one around what do we see every year during back-to-school?” says Pete Alsante, BBDO senior VP and senior creative director. The client’s mission is for the general public to know the signs of a potential shooter.
The team arrived at the insight that knowledge of those signs is basically a “back-to-school essential. Out of that came the idea of playing off what those essentials are, in this day and age,” Alsante says.