Parkland Father Will Ask Agencies, Brands and Nonprofits at Cannes to Work Together for Change

Manuel Oliver will deliver plea alongside 3D-printed likeness of his son

Oliver's nonprofit Change the Ref seeks meaningful change around gun reform.
Change The Ref

Artist and activist Manuel Oliver, father of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting victim Joaquin Oliver, will go onstage at advertising’s biggest event Friday to ask brands and agencies to work together to drive meaningful change around gun reform.

Alongside him as he addresses the audience at the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity will be a 3D-printed likeness of his son. Luis Miguel Messianu, creative chairman and CEO of Alma, will introduce and moderate the event. Alma worked with Change the Ref, the gun reform nonprofit started by Manuel and his wife Patricia, on a 2018 campaign called “Guac is Back” that introduced the 3D likeness. Alma, which won a Print and Publishing Bronze Lion for a campaign that showcases gun violence statistics of Florida compared to other states, will present a 15-minute documentary on the campaign before Oliver takes the stage.

Oliver views the event as an opportunity to present his message “on the right stage, in front of the right people,” addressing large brands and agencies. “Basically, my goal here is to promote this trifecta between agencies, a good cause—in my case, fighting gun violence—and a brand,” Oliver told Adweek.

One poster from Alma's campaign about Florida's alarming gun statistics.

“Brands are going to be able to get involved in a new way of advertising,” he said. “I think that we’ve reached a point where people are going to really listen to our message. Everything is about communicating in the best possible way and there’s no better way to communicate than through advertising.”

Since an appearance by students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School at the 4A’s Accelerate conference in Miami, the ad industry has supported Change the Ref with a number of initiatives. In addition to Alma’s efforts, the group has partnered with FCB Health Network’s Area 23 on Posts Into Letters, an initiative transforming social media posts into letters to Congress written in Joaquin Oliver’s handwriting; a recent reimagining of children’s game Operation as Impossible Operation; MullenLowe and The One Club for Creativity’s Fight Gunfire With Fire that harnessed ad students’ ideas to transform McCann’s “Fearless Girl” into “#FearfulGirl” with a bulletproof vest; and creating a “Museum of Incomplete.” Change the Ref also worked with the Giffords Organization and a group of Texas creatives on another 3D sculpture called “The Last Lockdown.”

Oliver believes he can play an instrumental role in empowering collaborations between organizations such as his and creative agencies to develop powerful campaigns through their considerable resources. Brands, in turn, will benefit from associations with causes audiences care about, or, as Oliver put it, “to show their good intentions to a community and a nation.”

This is not exactly a new phenomenon.

Budweiser used its past two Super Bowl campaigns to highlight its disaster relief and environmental efforts. And W+K’s Nike campaign featuring Colin Kapaernick saw the brand take a powerful stance by standing behind the quarterback.

“Having good intentions is not enough,” Oliver said. “But when you bring the money, when you change the social behavior, the consumer behavior, by bringing this amazing brand, that’s a big change.”

Oliver hopes the event will mark a before-and-after divide for his organization and others as brands and agencies devote time and resources to causes and envisions this collaboration working to shape social attitudes around gun violence the way attitudes have shifted toward smoking. He said he understands that finding a path to change can take time but remains optimistic that a new generation just beginning to vote will bring about progress.

“After Cannes, I want to be able to show everyone in an exponential way our message by using the power of digital media, the resources from ad agencies and the notoriety and social power of brands,” Oliver said.

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