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THE LOST CLASS

LEO BURNETT, Chicago / CHANGE THE REF INC. / 2022

Awards:

Silver Cannes Lions
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Overview

Credits

Overview

Why is this work relevant for Social & Influencer?

In order to fight back against the gun violence epidemic in America, we needed to create awareness during a time period when the conversation was quiet and we had to do it on a budget of nothing. So we invited two pro-gun advocates to speak to the graduation ceremony of The Lost Class - the 3,044 students who couldn’t graduate this year because they were killed by a gun - and released the films of the stunt on social where people from both sides of the political spectrum would share and debate, including A-List influencers who weren’t official partners.

Background

Gun violence is a leading cause of death among children and teens in the US. Public support for common sense gun laws has gained momentum. But those efforts have been countered by groups like the National Rifle Association (NRA), which spends about $250MM per year on its advocacy programs, far more than all the gun control advocacy groups combined.

Our objectives centered around moving people from awareness of the issue to being an advocate for it. With no media budget, we needed to do something that would capture media attention, amplify the impact and provide a mechanism for people to become advocates for universal background checks. We wanted this awareness to build without having to wait for another tragedy to occur and knew that the conversation needed to expand beyond the Beltway and the hyper-polarized political discourse to bring the issue of common sense gun legislation to mainstream consideration.

Describe the creative idea

This year, 3,044 members of the high school class of 2021 didn’t graduate because they were killed by a gun. So we held a graduation ceremony for this group of students, which became known as The Lost Class. We then invited David Keene, former NRA President, and John Lott, author of More Guns, Less Crime, to deliver the commencement speech. These two individuals work tirelessly to shape pro-gun policy, so we set out to make their influence work against them. While they thought they were attending a dress rehearsal for a real graduation, they were actually speaking to the students who would never get the chance to cross the stage because of their actions. The stunt was featured by media on both sides of the political spectrum and sparked a nationwide conversation about common sense laws.

Describe the strategy

Guns kill 38,826 people each year. There’s been a 17% increase over a decade in deaths due to firearms. The average cost for overall gun violence in the United States is $860 for every person.

Numbers are powerful, but they can also be numbing. We experience mass shooting stories one-by-one, and unless it happens near us, it can feel like a far-off problem. To convey the horror of gun violence to the general public and apply pressure on legislators to pass common sense gun laws, we needed to find a common reference point that would speak to a wide swath of Americans. After going back through historic CDC data, we were able to calculate how many students meant to graduate this year were killed by a gun and use the graduation season to make the loss relevant to millions of people around the country.

Describe the execution

To put on a graduation for The Lost Class, we first created James Madison Academy, a fake online high school named after the author of the Second Amendment. We then invited David Keene, former NRA President, and John Lott, author of More Guns, Less Crime, to make the school’s commencement speech. We filmed their speeches during what they believed was a dress rehearsal in front of 3,044 empty white chairs. But really, they were speaking to the 3,044 students who couldn’t graduate this year because they were killed by a gun. Within a few days, we filmed and edited the videos and released them on social media. The ocean of empty chairs visually accompanied by two prominent gun rights advocates created an international conversation around background checks, sparked by online personalities including journalists like Katie Couric, A-Listers like Demi Lovato, legislators, advocates and more.

List the results

We relied solely on donated media and achieved a massive amount of impressions – 1.4 Billion in total. BuzzFeed broke the news, which led to a same-day dedicated segment on the Rachel Maddow Show, and overnight coverage in top-tier global news, including CNN, The Washington Post, The Guardian, The Hill, and more. A-Listers like Katie Couric and Demi Lovato spread the word on our behalf – without us doing any outreach which helped us to reach that mainstream audience we knew we needed to engage if this was going to work. We garnered 1.2 billion social media impressions; 9000+% increase in daily mentions of Change the Ref days after launch and 2161% increase over the first two weeks. In total, we got over 40,00 petition signatures. And we succeeded in driving the conversation about the need for background checks, achieving a 66% increase vs the previous week.

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