Familiar back-to-school supplies such as pencils, scissors and gym socks are recast as emergency survival tools in a new public service announcement from the Sandy Hook Promise, an anti-violence nonprofit founded by the parents of victims of the Sandy Hook shootings in 2012.
In the PSA, "Back-to-School Essentials," young students breezily show off their new school supplies before the tone veers into something much darker: A boy marveling over his new sneakers is running down the hallway not to dodge a hall monitor but a gunman. The ad reflects a grim reality for the network of survivors from the more than 228,000 students who have experienced a school shooting since the massacre at Columbine High School in 1999.
The video debuted on NBC during the Wednesday morning broadcast of the "Today" show, paired with an interview of Sandy Hook Promise co-founder Nicole Hockley. Hockley's 6-year-old son, Dylan, was among the 20 children and six adults who were killed in the December 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.
"At the end, the girl with the phone gets me every time," Hockley said on "Today," referencing the ad's final scene, in which a young girl huddles in a bathroom stall to text her mom "I love you" as she hides from an offscreen shooter.
"We don't want people to turn away from it, so pretending it doesn't exist is not going to solve it," Hockley said, explaining the group's motivation for choosing an ad that she says is hard to watch.
The video is the latest installment of anti-violence PSAs the group releases each year. This year's ad promotes "Know the Signs," a campaign for teaching students and school staff members how to recognise and intervene when someone shows warning signs of behaviour that could lead to shootings or other forms of violence in schools.
The goal, as Hockley explained, is prevention; she wants people to understand how they can recognise troubling behaviour and intervene to stop violence like school shootings before they happen. Other tactics have been more reactive: Sales of bulletproof backpacks for kids have grown every year since 2016.
"I will never put a bulletproof backpack on my kid," Hockley said on "Today." "I think it sends totally the wrong message: He's not a soldier going off to war; he's a boy going off to math class."
The campaign is expanding beyond print and digital to include radio and outdoor advertising, according to Adweek. The ad, The New York Times reports, is expected to receive a boost from $2 million worth of donated media placements from organisations such as the AMC theater chain, Condé Nast and CNN. Democratic presidential candidates including Sen. Kamala Harris of California, Andrew Yang and Montana Gov. Steve Bullock have shared the PSA on Twitter.
Previous spots from the campaign have won advertising awards, with the 2016 PSA "Evan" being viewed more than 11 million times on YouTube.