Sandy Hook Promise shows real gun violence victims who lost their ‘Teenage Dream’

The powerful PSA, created by BBDO New York, puts a somber spin on Katy Perry’s hit song.

Teenage years are often romanticized as the most fun-filled of life, with budding romances, adventures with friends and a hopeful future on the horizon. 

But for an increasing number of high school students, teenage years are marred with gun violence. Sandy Hook Promise, a non-profit founded by parents who lost their children to gun violence, released its latest PSA, “Teenage Dream,” to reflect those lost years. 

In the PSA, created by BBDO New York and Smuggler director Henry-Alex Rubin, a group of students recite the lyrics to Katy Perry’s song “Teenage Dream.” The song, typically an upbeat anthem, is noticeably somber, with different high school students quietly singing the lyrics. 

“You think I'm pretty without any makeup on,” the lyrics read. “You think I'm funny when I get the punchline wrong. I know you get me, so I let my walls come down. Before you met me

I was alright, but things were kinda heavy. You brought me to life.”

The spot ends with a warning that “The teenage dream is not what it used to be,” and reveals that each student featured in the video is a victim of school gun violence. 

The participants include: Hannah Dysinger, who was shot in the ribcage with the same bullet that killed her best friend; Nick Walczak, who was shot three times and paralyzed by a bullet in his spine; Carlitos Rodriguez, who barricaded himself behind a door as 17 of his schoolmates were killed in the Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Parkland, Florida; Aalayah Eastmond, a Parkland survivor who hid under the body of her dead friend; Nolan Brandy, who was shot in the kidney during class as his teacher and a classmate were killed in San Bernardino, California; Mia Page-Tretta, who was shot in the stomach while her best friend was killed next to her, and more.

Perry’s song was the perfect fit for the PSA because of its hard-hitting lyrics, Peter Alsante, BBDO executive creative director, told Campaign US. 

“It's easy to think back to some of the simpler times and how impermanent so much high school stuff is,” said Alsante. “They're just these fun years we look back on like, ‘Man, if only life was that easy.’ We knew that setting it against the very different experience these survivors of school shootings have had would create something really powerful and moving.”

The PSA aimes to drive awareness of Sandy Hook Promise, but also to spark discussion around how gun violence is preventable.

“The greatest measure of success will be that one day, hopefully sooner rather than later, a trend goes in the opposite direction, and there's less of these types of shootings,” said Alsante. 

In May, Sandy Hook Promise deviated away from its usual gun violence campaigns to target  mental health challenges in youth and teens caused by social distancing and a global health crisis. 

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