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.
“Back to School” debuted on NBC during the Wednesday morning broadcast of the “Today” show alongside an interview with 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, Conn.
“At the end, the girl with the phone gets me every time,” Hockley said on “Today,” referencing the ad’s final scene, where a young girl huddles in a bathroom stall to text her mom “I love you” as she hides from a gunman.
“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 even she admits 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 geared at teaching students and school staff how to recognize and intervene when someone shows warning signs of behavior that could lead to shootings or other forms of violence in schools.
“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.”
Reactions to the campaign on social media were overwhelmingly positive in the hours after the PSA’s debut:
Previous spots from the campaign have won advertising awards, with the 2016 PSA “Evan” being viewed more than 11 million times on YouTube.