Fearless Girl Transformed Into #FearfulGirl as a Symbol for Gun Reform

Change the Ref partnered with Fight Gunfire With Fire on the initiative

Fearless Girl was transformed to #FearfulGirl as a symbol against gun violence. Arts & Sciences

For a brief hour last Friday morning, Fearless Girl transformed into #FearfulGirl to deliver a message about gun violence.

Manuel and Patricia Oliver, parents of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting victim Joaquin Oliver and founders of gun reform organization Change the Ref, placed the bulletproof vest on the statue. They were unsure whether the act would lead to arrest or fines, which ultimately wasn’t the case.

The group tweeted an image of #FearfulGirl at 8:02 a.m. ET Friday morning, along with the message, “She can’t be fearless if she’s afraid to go to school.”

Change the Ref teamed up with Fight Gunfire With Fire on the initiative, a creative force founded earlier this year by MullenLowe and The One Club for Creativity, which calls on advertising students to submit ideas to address the issue of gun violence.

MullenLowe interns MK Holladay and Emeline Earman (both students of University of Alabama) and Mingyu Jo (an ArtCenter College of Design student) came up with the concept that became #FearfulGirl, which is the first Fight Gunfire With Fire initiative to come to fruition, an idea that preceded the group’s formal submission process.

Fight Gunfire With Fire co-chairman Mark Wenneker explained that the original idea was to put a bulletproof vest on the Statue of Liberty, which proved impractical for obvious reasons.

The One Club CEO Kevin Swanepoel explained that it was part of Fight Gunfire With Fire’s mission to take “ideas generated by students” and connect them with creatives who can then craft them into something “more feasible.”

The second iteration of the idea arrived at putting a vest on the Fearless Girl statue McCann New York created for State Street Global Advisors for International Women’s Day 2017. McCann deferred to State Street Global Advisors, who declined to comment. Wenneker explained that Fearless Girl was an ideal fit as an iconic statue of a child subject that was “incredibly loved and admired.”

“As soon as we saw it, we knew we had something powerful,” Wenneker told Adweek.”If they saw it another way for a moment or an hour, it would strike a chord and make people stop being numb for one moment and shake them into action.”

Taking the concept to reality included a series of other logistical challenges, however, including finding a bulletproof vest small enough to fit on the diminutive statue. Fight Gunfire With Fire ultimately arrived at Change the Ref as the right partner, Wenneker said, and Manuel Oliver was excited about the idea.

Before the day of the event, no one was quite sure exactly how it would play out. “The plan was to leave the jacket on until somebody pulled it off,” Wenneker explained.

According to Wenneker, about an hour after it was placed on the statue, police came and questioned Oliver and put caution tape on the statue. Manuel and Patricia told Wenneker, “I don’t care if we get arrested,” and he said they “weren’t afraid of anything.” The police officer on the scene was ultimately moved by their story and decided against taking any action, he explained.

The social media component of the initiative centered around the hashtag #FearfulGirl amplifies the message to a wider audience. Capturing video footage ended up being an added bonus, with production company Arts & Sciences contributing their work pro bono.

“I think it’s everything,” Wenneker said of the social campaign. “The goal originally was to get a picture and hope that [it] went viral. We were not banking on a lot of eyeballs being on it in New York.”

He added that the response on social media has been sizable and entirely positive, pointing to a post citing the effort as a great example of “recontextualizing an iconic sculpture” as a particular highlight.

Wenneker explained that the idea for Fight Gunfire With Fire originated when his daughter told him about a lockdown drill that had happened at her school. He quickly reached out to Swanepoel, and the two launched the group within its initial form in May. He added that they felt the need to push out a first initiative ahead of the 2018 midterm elections and that Oliver and Change the Ref “ultimately made it real.”

Wenneker claimed that while the ad industry often gets a “bad rep for a lot of stuff,” there has been an outpouring of individuals asking how they can help.

Still, he said, “I think there are a lot of agencies and clients that don’t want to touch this subject,” something he finds kind of mind-boggling. “It’s not politics. … It doesn’t feel like politics to parents who have lost their kids.”

“We’ve gone to some corporations … and they wouldn’t have anything to do with it,” Swanepoel added, characterizing one idea presented by a student as simple, easily executable and something an unspecified corporation “should have jumped on.”

According to Swanepoel, the group plans to activate “at least” four or five of the nine pieces it has selected by the end of January.

“As creatives and as an industry, we really have the ability to make a difference. I’m just thrilled that the young students and the young creatives have come forward with such great ideas,” Wenneker said. “I think it speaks volumes to the millennials who really care deeply about these types of issues. I think its positive for our industry, and it can be positive to help prevent more gun violence.”

@ErikDOster erik.oster@adweek.com Erik Oster is an agencies reporter for Adweek.