The commercial opens on crayon drawings and
the tiny voice of a child talking lovingly about her little
sister. Then the camera zooms in on a stick figure lying on
the ground, part of its body covered in red marker. The next
frame shows the speaker's self-portrait, her face violently
scribbled out in black.
"I found a gun in the drawer; it went
off," the small voice says, cracking. "I made Kalie
go away. I hate me."
The commercial, which ends on the line, "An
unlocked gun could be the death of your family. Please lock
up your gun," is part of a public service advertising
campaign advocating safe gun storage that is being distributed
this week by the Advertising Council and the National Crime
"We are not in any way, shape or form pro-
or anti-guns - we didn't approach it as an issue about guns,"
said Hal Fass, senior vice president and group management
director at the New York office of FCB Worldwide, the True
North Communications unit that created the campaign. "We
made it all about safety and a health issue for protecting
American kids. We're not making any judgments."
The seemingly simple commercials, devoid of
sound effects, music or actors, belie the intensive creative
process FCB New York undertook to develop the campaign, which
it did for no fee.
The ultimate strategy to use children as the common denominator
to tell the gun safety story was a result of a year's worth
of research and interviews to get behind the wall of controversy
and politics that is erected at the mere mention of gun ownership,
said the campaign's creative directors, Sandy Greenberg and
Terri Meyer, who are executive vice presidents at FCB.
The agency met with dozens of officials from a range of groups
that touch on the gun issue, including sheriffs' associations
and manufacturers of trigger locks, and it did extensive research
about the attitudes of gun owners. The FCB team also met with
gun owners in their homes to learn how to design their message
for maximum effect.
The research turned up some insights that surprised the team.
They realized first that the primary motivation of gun owners
is to protect the family. The team also learned that gun ownership
cuts across racial and socioeconomic barriers, but gun owners
share a psychology of defensiveness about their guns and a
feeling of being persecuted for their choice.
Gun owners also do not trust statistics, which tend to become
pawns in the national gun controversy, Ms. Greenberg said.
She said the team developed advertising using some strong
statistics, but dumped it after deciding it would not be convincing
to gun owners.
Most gun owners also say that their children are more likely
to accidentally swallow a drain cleaner than to get hold of
their gun, according to the research. The creative team, however,
had read dozens of news accounts over five years about children
shooting other children accidentally.
"In the great gun debate, what we realized is that we
never heard from the children," Ms. Meyer said. "And
we realized we had to come from that point of view of irrefutable
logic, that it's wrong and it's child abuse to not lock up
The team chose not to use actors because gun owners might
not be able to relate to the people or might view it as too
commercial, Ms. Greenberg said. Instead, they chose the crayon
drawings for their universal appeal, representing the kind
of pictures everyone has hung on their refrigerator by their
child or niece or grandchild, they said.
"We wanted to create a commercial where anyone could
put themselves in that place," Ms. Greenberg said. "We
wanted to personalize it so much that we put it in your home
on your refrigerator."
The campaign, which will also have ads for print, radio and
outdoor media, deliberately avoids excessive information on
how to lock up guns, said Adam Gargani, FCB New York's senior
vice president for account planning.
"People buy guns to protect their family and they don't
believe they could be irresponsible,'` Mr. Gargani said. "If
we can get people to successfully rethink this, then the specific
action of safe storage is rather straightforward."
The crime prevention council said the campaign was prompted
by recent school shootings, paired with new research showing
that 66 percent to 75 percent of gun owners view safe storage
as an important issue, but almost half store their weapons
The council said 34 percent of American households with children
have firearms, and an estimated 300 accidental child deaths
and another 900 injuries involving guns occur each year. And
300,000 to 500,000 guns are stolen each year - the weapons
presumably were not properly locked up - and are then often
used to commit crimes, said Jack Calhoun, the crime prevention
council's president and chief executive.
Mr. Calhoun said he did not expect a controversy over the
ads, but to be certain, the council showed the ads to a sample
of its target audience of gun owners who have children. He
said none felt threatened or felt that the ads were anti-gun.
The Ad Council relies on the good will of the media, and it
anticipates more than $30 million in free publicity to support
the campaign over the next year, said Peggy Conlon, president
of the Ad Council. Ms. Conlon said the typical Ad Council
campaign gets about $28 million annually, but this effort
might get more because it is topical.
Patricia Winters Lauro, The New York Times. September 27, 2000
Copyright © 2000 The New York Times Company. All rights reserved.