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Back to School (Shootings)

Ammar Mahmood
Sep 19, 2019 · 3 min read

The Sandy Hook Promise released a scathing satirical horror show of a PSA — and it’s everything.

First, just watch this thing*:

*This PSA contains graphic content related to school shootings that may be upsetting to some viewers. If you feel that this subject matter may be too difficult for you, you may choose not to watch this video.

Okay, now pull your shit together, take a Xanax, and wipe the snot off your face.

The striking fact that we learned after watching this gut-punching and unexpected PSA is that more than 400 people have been killed in school shootings SINCE the Sandy Hook shooting took place in December, 2012.

This ad reflects the determination of the parents of Sandy Hook victims to effect real change in this country by any means necessary. While pundits and citizens are arguing over interpretations of the 2nd Amendment or squabbling over which guns are viable for public use and which are not, the Sandy Hook Promise has a very clear and unapologetic message to send: stop letting our children get slaughtered in our schools.

Here at Tiny Beast, we’re not shy about our stance on this issue. There’s zero excuse. Legislation needs to change now to protect our children, especially at school, where they ought to feel safe and free of outside stress factors, so that they can focus on another institution this country has ignored for too long — education.

BUT, back to the ad. We want to point out that what makes this PSA extremely effective is that it plays a trick on its viewer — setting up an expectation in minds and pulling the rug out on us by completely subverting that expectation. This concept is fundamental to effective story-telling, content, and yes, advertising. It’s a concept that Tiny Beast embraces every day in the work we execute for our clients. So we’re going to break down the process of subverting expectations with the Sandy Hook PSA as our model:

  1. Define the story you want to tell: School shootings are still a deadly scourge in America — and it needs to be resolved.
  2. Consider the audience you’re trying to reach: American voters, parents, law makers
  3. Explore the paradigms that are familiar and accepted (even played out) in your category and target market: Back-to-school advertising is a known and familiar cultural experience around August and September. We all recognize it, we know it when we see it, we have expectations about how it will start and end. Parents, the common target for back-to-school ads, also happen to be of voting age, concerned about gun control, or are undecided about the subject — perfect target for an ad as effective as this one.
  4. Leverage the familiar paradigm to build instant trust with the audience: The familiar school scenes, highlighting common back-to-school products (backpack, folders, etc.), with the light, friendly musical score and familiar school sounds paint the picture of back-to-school anticipation. We’ve already baited the viewer within the first 3 seconds.
  5. Turn everything on its head and reverse the viewer’s expectations: The teacher locking the door, the kids in the library beginning to panic, the child running down the hall while discussing his new shoes. The sounds of screams and gunshots. Our notions about the world of this story have been eviscerated by a new context that has been added to it, and all the rules have changed. That’s what grabs our attention and impacts viewers on a visceral level — a new paradigm has been revealed to us — and our sense of reality is shaken.

Story-telling like this plants itself in the minds and hearts of the audience, making the experience instantly memorable and emotionally palpable, while sustaining attribution and affinity for months or even years to come. It’s a particularly effective device when used for advertising-as-activism. We applaud the Sandy Hook Promise for masterful work on this PSA, and for subverting our expectations. We just wish they never had to do it.

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