Back to School Shootings

We all know that there are some necessities for back-to-school shopping. New clothes, new supplies and, maybe, some new décor. Most of us do our back-to-school splurging before coming to school. Yet this ad, sponsored by Sandy Hook Promise, takes something that can inspire excitement and morphs it into something that leaves a sickening feeling in our stomachs.

Before continuing, please watch the one-minute advertisement.

This advertisement was released on September 17, 2019 and has since been featured on several news stories and talk shows. Sandy Hook Promise (SHP) is a non-profit organization that find its tragic origins in the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting on December 14, 2012. As found on its website, the mission is “to create a culture engaged in preventing shootings, violence, and other harmful acts in schools.”

Personally, as a creative piece, I really enjoyed the ad. It took a familiar concept and made it something realistically frightening and I love those kinds of things. The last scene with the girl hiding in the bathroom stall especially tugged on my heart and got my adrenaline pumping. After the short film, text appears saying, “It’s back to school time and you know what that means. School shootings are preventable when you know the signs.” It is only in this moment when I even realized what this video is— not an advertisement but a PSA.

As an advertisement, SHP fails. It gives no call to action, no solutions or symptoms to analyze. In years prior, SHP has given more preference to preventative measures being showcased in their PSAs. This makes sense, especially considering their mission. Previous PSAs usually began hours or even days before the shooting actually occurs to showcase that something could have been done to prevent the shootings. This year, the PSA immediately jumps into the action. The audience has no clue who the shooter is. There are no background clues, no cute stories or shifts in perspective. There’s nothing about this video that says “we can do something to stop it” only “we must deal with what happens once it begins” which seems to greatly contradict the mission statement of the SHP.

However, as a PSA, I would say it is very effective. The shock factor is enough to raise awareness of the gravity of school shootings. It doesn’t push the agenda of prevention as much as raising interest and apparently that was the all in the plan. According to AdWeek, there was a clear goal in mind with the release of this new campaign. Lindsey Cash, senior vice president and senior director at BBDO New York who has overseen the campaign since its launch, said: “We’re trying to tap into all the other back-to-school ads that are happy, kitschy, that try to sell back to school supplies and flip them on their head,” she said. “This is the new normal. The only back to school essential you need is to know the signs.”