The college acceptance letter, that iconic feel-good document that every university-bound student cherishes, gets a disturbing makeover in a campaign from Goodby Silverstein & Partners and production company Prettybird that broke Saturday with a print ad in the Harvard Crimson.
The point of the campaign is to raise awareness of sexual assault on campus, and pressure schools to protect students better. The creative approach: Mock up an acceptance letter that takes a dark turn halfway through, in which the admissions director apologizes in advance for the accepted student eventually getting raped on campus—and for not doing enough to protect her.
The ad below ran on Saturday with a print buy in the Harvard Crimson newspaper, timed to the college's accepted-students weekend. A letter will also run in USA Today from Wagatwe Wanjuki, one of the sexual-assault survivors who stood on stage with Lady Gaga when she sang "Til It Happens to You" from The Hunting Ground at the Oscars.
"This is a true story. One in five women are sexually assaulted in college," the ad in the Harvard Crimson read. "If they accept you, don't accept this. DontAcceptRape.com."
There are online films, as well, that darkly spoof the popular genre of social-media video in which students open their acceptance letters from the college and freak out with joy. The spots, which aren't quite as joyful, were shot on iPhones by directors Ben and Alex Brewer to make them look real.
The hashtag #DontAcceptRape aims to start a conversation online, gain more signatures supporting survivors and hold hundreds of colleges accountable for behavior that is unacceptable.
GS&P executive creative director Margaret Johnson and Prettybird co-founder and president Kerstin Emhoff were both earlier involved in The Hunting Ground, the 2015 documentary that showed college students who have been raped on campus facing retaliation and harassment while fighting for justice. The film featured Johnson's alma mater, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
"The first six weeks of college is the period when freshmen have the highest likelihood of being raped," says Johnson. "So we timed our campaign to raise awareness at the earliest point when college becomes a reality—the time when incoming freshmen receive their acceptance letters. The cover-ups are just as unacceptable as the attacks, and the campaign aims to hold these colleges accountable. We hope that people will take action through social media."
Adds Emhoff: "When we were approached by the filmmakers of The Hunting Ground to get involved with their film, they had no idea that not only did I have personal experience with this subject, but my son was just starting his freshman year in college. We were shocked by the statistics and the stories the film had uncovered. We hope that this campaign inspires parents and students to take action with their schools and watch the film."
See more of the videos below.
Agency: Goodby Silverstein & Partners
Title of Creative Work: Unacceptable Acceptance Letters
Co-Chairmen: Jeff Goodby and Rich Silverstein
Executive Creative Director/Partner: Margaret Johnson
Creatives: Laura Petruccelli, Rohan Cooke
Designer: Todd King
Director of Broadcast Production: Tod Puckett
Executive Broadcast Producer: Hilary Coate
Director of Graphic Services: Jim King
Associate Technology Director: Andre Cardozo
Retouching: Quinn Gravier
Account Director: Cassi Norman
Brand and Communication Strategy
Director of Brand Strategy: Bonnie Wan
Director of Communications: Meredith Vellines
Sr. Communications Strategist: Caitlin Neelon
Brand Strategist: Gabriella Svensk
Business Affairs Manager: Heidi Killeen
Company Name: Prettybird
Executive Producer: Kerstin Emhoff, Suzanne Hargrove
Associate Producer: Nick Miller
Producer: Nathan Scherrer
Company Name: Cut + Run
Executive Producer: Deanne Mehling
Editor: Christopher Kasper
Company Name: Spy Post
Executive Producer: Lori Joseph
Colorist: Chris Martin
Company Name: Yessian
Composer: David Gold
Company name: One Union
End Treatment Graphics
Company Name: eLevel