Sandy Hook Promise Darkly Flips the Cheery Back-to-School Ad in New Gun Violence PSA

BBDO spot says the only real 'essential' is knowing the signs

A girl holds scissors as she looks out of a classroom window.
One of the 'back-to-school' essentials in stark new Sandy Hook Promise ad
Sandy Hook Promise

Sandy Hook Promise, the Newtown, Connecticut-based nonprofit whose mission is to prevent gun violence in schools, is taking a new tack in its 2019 public service advertising campaign. In the wake of 22 school shootings so far this year, the organization is launching its new campaign today.

Since 2016, when the campaign—created by BBDO New York—was launched, all its ads have been introduced in December, to commemorate the Dec. 14, 2014, mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, where 20 children and six adults were killed. Previously, the campaign featured only videos, including its first, “Evan,” which won numerous awards, including a Gold Lion at Cannes.

The centerpiece of the new campaign, to coincide with back-to-school this year, is a 60-second spot dubbed “Back to School Essentials.”

In it, children discuss the various items their parents have purchased for them for the new school year. Although the list begins innocently, it grows increasingly darker: A girl uses her new socks, which she describes as a “real life-saver,” as a tourniquet for a friend who’s been injured, and another girl texts her mother, “I love you mom,” from her new phone as she crouches over a toilet during a school shooting.

The spot concludes with the stark statement: “It’s back to school time, and you know what that means. School shootings are preventable when you know the signs.”

The campaign also is expanding beyond TV and digital to include print, radio and out-of-home media.

In one radio ad, a boy discusses his new sneakers, which he says “help me stay ahead of the competition and outrun school shooters. I just couldn’t live without them. There’s only one real back-to-school essential, learning to spot the signs of a shooter.”

The new theme and timing for the campaign were chosen, said Nicole Hockley, co-founder and managing director of Sandy Hook Promise, whose 6-year-old son, Dylan, was killed in the 2014 school shooting, “because parents don’t really understand the new normal. They don’t really understand active shooting drills, the violence that goes on in schools, that this violence is preventable.”

Lindsey Cash, senior vice president and senior director at BBDO New York who has overseen the campaign since its launch, said: “This year we want to make more of an impact. We are trying to get people interested at channels, spaces and places that we never reached before.”

“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.”

Sandy Hook Promise’s “Know the Signs” programs teach students and adults how to recognize warning signs and threats that often precede an act of violence or self-harm. They also provide steps to properly intervene and get help before violence occurs, and a downloadable brochure highlighting the signs.

PHD, BBDO’s sister Omnicom agency, has secured more than 50 media partners for the campaign, and so far they have donated over $2 million in time and ad space. These include CNN, IFC, AMC, YouTube, PopSugar, Conde Nast, Snapchat, Sports Illustrated, The Wall Street Journal, New York Post, Fortune, iHeartRadio, Pandora, Intersection and others.

Here’s a look back at previous PSAs from Sandy Hook Promise, followed by credits for the new spot:


Agency: BBDO New York
Chief Creative Officer, Worldwide: David Lubars
Chief Creative Officer, New York: Greg Hahn
SVP Senior Creative Director: Peter Alsante
VP Creative Director: Bianca Guimaraes
Associate Creative Director / Copywriter: Jim Connolly
Associate Creative Director / Copywriter: Gary du Toit
Associate Creative Director / Art Director: Lance Vining
Director of Integrated Production: David Rolfe
VP, Group Executive Producer: Alex Gianni
Associate Producer: Molly Ross
Music Producer: Julia Millison
Business Manager: Grace Kelly
SVP Senior Director: Lindsey Cash
Account Manager: Elizabeth Jacobs
Account Executive: Melissa Blache
Planning Director: Ben Bass
Brand Strategist: Michael Schonfeld
VP, Director of Data: Chris Daniele

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