Sandy Hook Promise's harrowing film sparks dialogue about US school shootings

Spot shows schoolchildren using items to defend themselves and escape in a shooting.

Scissors, new trainers and new socks – back-to-school essentials or impromptu tools for dealing with a school shooting? 

That is the question posed by Sandy Hook Promise's latest spot, created by BBDO, aimed at sparking a tough conversation about the rise of mass shootings in the US and how to prevent them. 

"Back-to-school essentials" starts off as a typical back-to-school ad, set to upbeat background music.

But the sinister reality soon becomes clear, with the children becoming increasingly frantic and fearful as they utilise scissors as last-ditch weapons, sweaters to tie doors together and skateboards to smash open windows to the backdrop of gunshots.

The four founding members of Sandy Hook Promise were all personally affected by the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, seven years ago, in which 26 children and educators were gunned down, with many of the victims younger than the child actors featured in the ad. 

"I am hoping this video will ignite more conversations about knowing the signs and result in more demand for Sandy Hook Promise’s no-cost, proven violence prevention programmes," Nicole Hockley, co-founder and co-managing director of Sandy Hook Promise, whose son Dylan was killed in the shooting, said.

The film has so far created a firestorm of discussion as back-to-school season is in full swing. 

According to Lindsey Cash, senior vice-president and senior director at BBDO, it garnered 26 million views in the 24 hours since its release on 18 September. 

That number can be expected to grow, with presidential candidates and members of Congress including Joe Biden, Elizabeth Warren, Bill de Blasio, Kamala Harris and others joining the conversation on Twitter.

But while the spot has sparked conversation on Capitol Hill, that is not the main objective of Sandy Hook Promise. 

The goal is to prevent gun violence and other forms of violence and victimisation before they happen, saving lives with or without any major reforms to gun laws in the US. 

Hockley continued: "We wanted to be within the back-to-school time period because parents need to understand the experience kids are having today in the school environment. They are already practising active shooter drills in school, so why not learn prevention techniques?"

However, she is confident that Congress is listening. 

"I think this will help support the drive to action in Congress," she told Campaign US. 

According to Cash, BBDO and Sandy Hook Promise managed to secure more than $2m of donated media to get their message across. 

"We didn’t want to just do a video PSA [public-service announcement], we wanted a 360 campaign that hit on multiple aspects of the message. While video is our hero over the next week, we’ll be rolling out radio, print, digital banners and outdoor ads," she added. 

New York-based PR shop Dini Von Mueffling Communications helped to deal with media outlets for the film, including the Today show, where it debuted. The agency also handled outreach to all current presidential candidates and other notable figures, including the Donald Trump campaign, before the video's launch. The Trump campaign did not respond.  

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