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New Ad Tells Gun Owners to Lock Up Their Weapons to Save Children

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 Prevention Council.

"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 your gun."

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 improperly.

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.