Change the Ref Says: Guns Make Our Schools More Deadly Than Combat Zones

Energy BBDO illustrates a harsh reality

Schools are so rife with deadly shootings, children might stand a better chance of survival on active military duty than in the classroom. 

That's the message from gun-control nonprofit Change the Ref, which just launched "New Recruits," fresh work developed with Energy BBDO. In posters, print and digital ads, kids wear Army fatigues and helmets. Copy reads: "Send your children to war. It's safer than sending them to school."

The work relates a harrowing statistic: In the last 20 years, more youngsters have died from gun violence than active-duty military and police personnel.

A 2022 speech by President Joe Biden in the wake of the Uvalde shooting served as a catalyst for the campaign, says agency creative director Lance Vining. POTUS drew attention to a staggering reality: 42,500 kids aged 5-18 were killed by guns between 2001 and 2020. In the same period, about 25,500 members of the U.S. Armed Forces lost their lives in the field. 

To illustrate that point, Change the Ref created a faux recruitment center in Montclair, N.J., last weekend. The group's leaders, Manuel and Patricia Oliver—who lost their son, Joaquin, alongside 16 others at the Parkland, Fla., shooting in 2018—handed out mock recruitment fliers encouraging passersby to mobilize for gun control.

"Since that event, we have created social content highlighting Manuel and Patricia's interactions with people during the activation, and we plan to roll out additional assets in the coming weeks," says Gary du Toit, an agency creative director. "We are also working with media partners to secure donated media placements to raise awareness around the Change the Ref organization as a whole and the call to ban assault weapons."

Last year, Change the Ref won four Grand Clios for its "Lost Class" initiative created with Leo Burnett.


Founder: Patricia Oliver
Founder: Manuel Oliver
Social Media Lead: Anna Johnson

N.A. CCO: Luiz Sanches
CCO: Josh Gross
Creative Director: Gary du Toit
Creative Director: Lance Vining
Copywriter: Gary du Toit / Charles Foley
Art Director: Lance Vining / Charles Foley Retouching: Charles Foley
Head of Production: Alex Gianni
Experiential Production Lead: Hayley Baldwin Director: Flynn Drew
Studio Lead: Mitch Monzon
Executive Producer: Jeff Davis
Producer: Serena Lignel
Business Lead: Peter Loftus
Music Lead: Daniel Kuypers
PR Leads: Olivia Dames and Laurie Parrish
Sr. Business Affairs Manager: Kathleen Bannon Audio Engineer: Ben Treimer
Music: Human Music & Sound Design

Photographer: David Prior
Edit & Post: Be Grizzlee

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