The film begins with closeup shots of students singing lines from the song:
You think I'm pretty without any makeup on
You think I'm funny when I get the punch line wrong
I know you get me, so I let my walls come down
Before you met me
I was alright, but things were kinda heavy
You brought me to life
Now every February
You'll be my Valentine, Valentine
Let's go all the way tonight
No regrets, just love
We can dance, until we die
You and I, will be young forever
You make me feel like I’m living a teenage dream
I can’t sleep
Let’s run away and don’t ever look back
Their subdued delivery and faraway stares completely transform the song’s free-wheeling optimism into something cryptically painful.
It's not until copy appears that the spot's meaning comes to light. “The teenage dream is not what it used to be,” a line announces. Scene by scene, the ad then goes on to reveal each kid’s story in type as the camera lingers on their faces.
Among them are Hannah Dysinger of Draffenville, Kentucky, who was shot in the ribcage—with the same bullet that had killed her best friend; Nick Walczak, of Charon, Ohio, who was shot three times and paralyzed by a bullet in his spine; Carlitos Rodriguez, a survivor of the Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Parkland, Florida, who had barricaded himself behind a door as 17 of his schoolmates were killed; Aalayah Eastmond, another Parkland survivor who had hidden under the body of her dead friend; Nolan Brandy of San Bernardino, California, who was shot in the kidney during class as his teacher and a classmate were killed; Mia Page-Tretta of Santa Clarita, California, who was shot in the stomach while her best friend was killed next to her, and many more.
Telling Real Stories
According to BBDO Executive Creative Director Peter Alsante, bringing real-life stories was paramount for this project. “One of the things that was important to Sandy Hook Promise was that we tell stories about the people affected,” he says. “Sometimes they’re seen as numbers, statistics. Giving a face to those kids felt like a way to remind people that this is a real thing that happens to real people who are a lot like you. That’s why we were attracted to the idea of telling a story using real survivors.”
The ad’s release now is meant to highlight the importance of knowing the signs of potential gun violence as kids go back to school coming out of the pandemic, given the “powder keg” effect of the intense emotional challenges kids have faced over the last year. In March, the organization had called attention to the issue with the ‘‘The Kids Are Not Alright" campaign.
The idea for the new take on Perry’s pop hit came from BBDO Creative Director Jim Connolly, who suggested, "what if we just had survivors perform the song ‘Teenage Dream’ by Katy Perry,” Alsante says. “People are wistful and nostalgic about their teenage years, when life was so much simpler and you thought about going to the prom, getting your driver’s permit. But we knew there was a comparison between what reality is for most kids in high school and what the new reality is for people who have survived these shootings.”