A prescription to help end gun violence

It's time for the industry to shape a new conversation around what has officially been declared a public health crisis, writes the global chief creative officer of Saatchi & Saatchi Wellness

"Gun violence requires more than moments of silence. It requires action." — President Obama

In the days immediately following the horrific shooting in Orlando in which 49 people lost their lives, we as a nation felt grief and outrage once again, as we had far too many times before, from Columbine to Sandy Hook to San Bernardino. Headlines, videos and pictures of these attacks in schools, offices and nightclubs have become commonplace. This is our new reality.

Tragically, despite all the work of gun safety activists, as well as many of us in the advertising community who’ve championed the cause with PSAs in recent years, political inaction around gun violence has become the norm in this country. But then, a few days after the shooting, the American Medical Association, the largest medical lobbying group in the country, declared gun violence "a public health crisis, requiring a comprehensive public health response and solution."

This could be the tipping point for gun control, and where we in healthcare advertising can step up to help shape a new conversation. Let’s tap into our creativity. Let’s tap into our knowledge about how to move people to action using the power of emotion. Let’s leverage our expertise in understanding the strategic role that media consumption, data and content play in the ability to engage and influence audiences. Let’s employ a powerful marketing message to shift perceptions of the unparalleled threat of gun violence.

We’ve already seen great work from agency creatives who have used their ideas and knowledge of the media landscape to try to make a real emotional impact on the public to spur action. "Gun Crazy," a follow up to the much-discussed "Gun Shop" campaign, shows an unsuspecting audience in a movie theater confronted by graphic footage of real-life shooting as the grave reality of the scenes forced them, like us watching from home, to experience the horror of America’s gun violence epidemic. That’s something we also worked towards with a campaign for the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence that suggests that if we’re not looking into our politicians’ stances on gun control, then we too will have blood on our hands when the next shooting happens. The work launched a conversation about its political and graphic approach, receiving a tough rebuttal from the NRA. But in the two years since, there have been far too many instances of gun violence. Not enough people listened.

For all of the important work the industry has created, and all the positive attention it has garnered, many in the healthcare advertising community view gun control as a topic too risky to touch. This work has typically not been submitted, awarded, or accepted to qualify for health-centric industry award categories. This reinforces the idea within our community that this isn’t a health issue. This must change.

The new efforts by the AMA should open the door for healthcare advertisers to approach gun violence from a public health perspective, and usher in a new era of partnership between agencies and the health community, much as we saw in years past, as we worked together on important projects ranging from smoking to AIDS, and drunk driving to domestic violence. We can approach the situation with bold, smart strategies that play to values and emotions everyone can relate to — the need for security to keep our families safe – the very basic instinct to survive. We can drive these ideas home and help turn the tide to change the way guns are designed, sold and regulated in this country.

Gun violence has been officially classified as a public health crisis. Now, each and every person in the industry has a responsibility to step forward and act on it.

Kathy Delaney is global chief creative officer of Saatchi & Saatchi Wellness.

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