Change the Ref suggests wearing bulletproof vests every day in new gun-violence PSA

The agency Preston Spire orchestrated the group’s latest stunt, which included a pop-up clothing rack in Minneapolis-St. Paul

Published On
Aug 11, 2023
Manuel Oliver shaking the hand of a man in a bulletproof vest

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Change the Ref, the creatively driven activist group fighting gun violence, has unveiled its latest stunt—the creation of “The New Life Vest,” a bulletproof vest it’s advising everyone to use in their everyday lives to protect themselves against the ever-escalating threat of guns.

The campaign includes this faux-happy infomercial:


More soberingly, the group’s founders, Manuel and Patricia Oliver—who lost their son Joaquin in the Parkland massacre—took to the streets of Minneapolis-St. Paul to show off the vests and try to get people to wear them:


The idea came from Minneapolis agency Preston Spire and was inspired by an experience creative director Brett Essman had while picking up his kids from school.

“I asked them how their day was. They said, ‘It was good, we did the bad guy drill today,’” Essman told Ad Age. “I asked what that was and they told me they hide in the bathroom and be really quiet because a bad guy was at school, which broke my heart. We stopped at Aldi to pick up a few groceries, and as you may know, you have to rent a cart there for a dollar. So it popped into my head: ‘What if we could rent bulletproof vests to people while they shopped?’”

Essman and his colleagues, Chris Preston and Jennifer Spire, approached the Olivers, who were into the idea—but later expanded it beyond grocery stores to multiple locations.

“I was familiar with the work of Change the Ref due to ‘The Lost Class’ stunt they did a few years ago, which was brilliant,” Essman said. “Manuel and Patricia Oliver offered to be the spokespeople for the campaign, which gave it credibility and emotion.”

“Our country is facing a critical epidemic of gun violence, and if the near-daily mass shootings aren’t enough of a wake-up call, then it’s time we all start wearing a bulletproof vest to try to stay alive,” said Manuel Oliver. “The bottom line is we need to fight against the terrible options of either carrying the weight of the loss of a loved one due to a mass shooting or carrying an extra 20 pounds of protection with you.”

Essman said what’s unique about this idea is it’s not overly political. 

“It’s not a left or right side of politics stunt,” he said. “If we don’t make some changes to our gun laws—left, right or middle—everyone’s lives will change. It’s getting to the point that when you go out to get groceries, go to a movie, or concert or even a parade, you’re putting your life at risk. All too soon it will be like grabbing an umbrella when it’s raining—you will have to grab a bulletproof vest to survive your everyday life.” 

Change the Ref’s founders have been extending the message by wearing New Life Vests at other appearances across the country, too.