Sandy Hook Promise and BBDO Warn: 'The Kids Are Not Alright'

Covid's frightening 'powder keg' effect on teens

PSAs dropping today from youth violence prevention group Sandy Hook Promise illustrate the volatile mental state of young people after more than a year of school closures, isolation, racial strife and economic struggle.

Mental-health related visits for children aged 5-17 have increased 25 percent since 2019. Now, we could be sitting on a "powder keg," SHP says, primed for an explosion of shootings, suicides and self-harm.

Developed by BBDO using mainly stock imagery and styled as "How to" videos warning parents to watch for trouble signs, the campaign depicts a virtual-IRL nexus of cacophony and confusion. We're bombarded by sounds and images that capture the troubled, tumultuous state of young minds on the edge. Here, consciousness crackles with negative energy as cascading inputs strain the system, like a circuit on overload.

How to Overload a Circuit

"It’s hard enough being a teenager during normal times, as we all probably remember. When you add the events and circumstances of the past year, it becomes nearly impossible," BBDO New York senior creative director Peter Alsante tells Muse. "We wanted to create work that showed just how much pressure was on teenagers, and how that pressure was essentially creating a powder keg situation, with many of them ready to blow.

"We chose to subvert the concept of a 'How to' guide to show how the past year has created such a perfect storm of events. With the repetition of 'Plug in' we wanted to show how the lives of these kids are being lived mostly in bedrooms through screens and devices, seemingly on repeat every day—devoid of the human contact and stimulation that teenagers normally experience."

Some of these teens grow increasingly distant and disturbed, retreating into pixel-lit worlds fraught with boredom, self-loathing and despair:

How to Perform a Disappearing Act

In worst-case scenarios, kids teeter on the brink. They're like homemade bombs with fuses burning down, timers ticking away the seconds to tragedy:

How to Make a Homemade Bomb

"In 'Disappear,' we wanted to capture the feeling of these kids’ lives being stripped away piece by piece amid the pandemic, and what that may do to them mentally and emotionally," Alsante says. "With 'Bomb,' we show the toll that the events and circumstances of the past year can take."

"The Kids Are Not Alright" tweaks the Sandy Hook-BBDO formula for Covid times, shifting focus from powerhouse classroom-themed efforts of recent years, such as "Back to School Essentials," "Evan" and "Tomorrow's News."

Unlike those epic spots with expansive scope and production values, "The Kids Are Not Alright" feels disjointed and intensely claustrophobic. Pandemic restrictions forced the team to lean into web footage and film effects. But those limitation ultimately serve as the campaign's greatest strengths. They provide glimpses of a roiling cyber hell, each keystroke dragging danger and destruction nearer the physical world.

While remote learning has, to some extent, stemmed the tide of gun violence in schools, "we're seeing a sharp rise in suicide in its place," Alsante says. "So, for this project, we wanted to focus on the fact that there are even more kids out there now who need help—whether it’s to prevent suicide or different acts of violence once school resumes."

The work invites viewers to visit SHP's website for additional information and resources.


Sandy Hook Promise

"How To" Campaign
"How to Overload a Circuit" :30
"How to Make a Homemade Bomb" :60
"How to Perform a Disappearing Act" :50

Creative Agency: BBDO, New York
Chief Creative Officer, Worldwide: David Lubars
SVP Senior Creative Director: Peter Alsante
Creative Director: Kara Goodrich
Creative Director: Cesar Finamori
SVP, Group Executive Producer: Alex Gianni
Producer: Tatiana Lanier
Production Coordinator: Annie Hutchings
Music Producer: Julia Millison
Business Manager: Grace Kelly
SVP Senior Director: Lindsey Cash
VP Account Director: Ann Kim
VP Planning Director: Ben Bass
Planner: Kamillah Collins

Production Company: Sweetshop, USA
Co-Production Company: Office of Development & Design (ODD)
Director: Jakob Marky
Design Director: Gary Breslin
Executive Producers: Jeff Miller, Matthew Turke, George Meeker, Tim Case
Producers: Linden Carty, Matt Zion-Basile

Editorial Company: School Editing, Toronto
"Circuit" & "Disappear" Editor: Ben Canny
"Bomb" Editor: Stacey Foster Jackson (via ODD)
Co-Editors: Chelsea Smith (via ODD), Taylor McWade
Executive Producer, Partner: Sarah Brooks

Design & Animation: Office of Development & Design (ODD)
Creative Director: Gary Breslin
Animators: Hayato Yamane, Paul Todaro

Finishing Company: Fort York, Toronto
Flame Artists: Melissa Vasiliev, Luke White, James Marin
Producer: Armen Bunag
Executive Producer: Erica Bourgault-Assaf

Telecine Company: Alter Ego, Toronto
Senior Colorist: Conor Fisher
Color Assistant: Daniel Saavedra
Producer: Spencer Butt
Senior Producer: Jane Garrah

Mix / Sound Design Company: Sound Lounge, New York
Engineer / Sound Designer: Pete Crimi
Engineer / Sound Designer: Justin Kooy
Executive Producer: Susie Shuttlewroth
Senior Producer: Lauren Mullen
Casting Director: Alexa Magnotto
Producer: Camila Dayson Aravena
Production Coordinator: Matt Smith

Footage Sourced & Licensed by Stalkr
Producer: George Alvarez
Researchers: Aaron Sharper, Jen Van Horn, Jeffrey Harland, Itzel Sarabia, Matt Gee, Nathalie
Dortonne, Mike Kho
Executive Producer: Colleen Cavanaugh Anthony
Production Manager: Chelsea Van Arsdol
Production Coordinator: Randall Collett

Content Curation by Catch & Release

Additional Footage Sourced & Licensed by Getty, Shutterstock, Film Supply, Dissolve, Stocksy, and Adobe

Media Agency: PHD
Client Business Lead: Bob Estrada
Strategy Director: Nichole Verost

PR Agency: Dini von Mueffling Communications
Founder & CEO: Dini von Mueffling
Publicist: Stephanie Morris

Advertise With Us

Featured Clio Award Winner



The best in creativity delivered to your inbox every morning.