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Behind the Gun Safety Campaign That Gives Voice to Gun Owners


Creatives from Wunderman Thompson speak to LBB’s Addison Capper about creating a petition for 97Percent Advocacy that doubles as a shooting range target

Behind the Gun Safety Campaign That Gives Voice to Gun Owners

Campaigns have the power to stand out if they do something different. This particular example from Wunderman Thompson, to us at least, does exactly that.

It takes aim at gun safety by giving voice to a group usually shut out of such conversations: gun owners. Created in partnership with bipartisan group 97Percent Advocacy, the campaign is pinned around research that reveals a majority (66%) of gun owners are very concerned about the high level of gun-related violence in the US. 71% of gun owners surveyed are concerned about the frequency of school shootings, 71% are concerned about the frequency of mass shootings, and 70% want to help find a way to reduce gun-related deaths and injuries.

At its core, 'Aim for Change' takes a balanced approach compared to the typical - and understandable - right versus wrong conversations around gun ownership in the media and advertising. It is a petition in the form of a shooting range target that features four gun safety laws, which 97Percent’s research shows are supported by gun owners and could reduce gun-related homicides by 28% and gun-related suicides by 6%. 

To find out more about the campaign and the effect that making it had on them, LBB's Addison Capper spoke with Amber Justis, EVP, ECD at Wunderman Thompson California and Ari Elkouby, CCO at Wunderman Thompson Canada. 

LBB> Tell me about the foundations of this campaign. What initially inspired you to make a more 'middle ground' gun safety campaign such as this?

Amber> When America suffered another mass shooting in Uvalde, TX, all of Wunderman Thompson NA and Canada gathered to ideate on ways to support urgency for gun reform. Over 150 ideas came back to us and from there we zeroed in on the work that really activated a remarkably powerful and under-represented target - which is the 97% of gun owners in America that are in support of gun law reform. Real change can only happen with the inclusion of folks who want to protect their 2nd amendment rights but who also understand the nuance needed in our gun safety laws to protect children from harm when guns fall too easily into the wrong hands.

LBB> With that in mind, what do you hope to achieve with this work compared to a more cut-and-dry, right versus wrong-style campaign? 

Amber> This work is intentionally bi-partisan. When looking back at some of the incredible PSA work that’s been done in the gun safety space since Columbine, we saw an overwhelmingly one-sided story being portrayed. The risk of excluding millions of American gun owners from the discussion is fundamentally the greatest challenge with this issue - a lack of progress. We wanted to create a new category of work that invited both sides to the table in the name of real change. Our aim was to highlight that, as a country, when it comes to gun safety, we fundamentally agree on much more than most people are even aware of.

LBB> Why was 97Percent Advocacy the right group to partner with? How did you become aware of their work?

Ari> There are very few truly bi-partisan gun reform groups and fewer still who have done their research and know the facts related to minimising gun-related homicides. Many activist groups focus on banning access to specific firearms, while 97Percent knows that for many gun owners, that is a non-starter - so their focus is on ensuring only responsible gun owners have access to firearms. Their understanding of both gun laws and gun owners made them the perfect partner.


LBB> Can you tell us a bit more about the research around gun owners and what informed your desire to create this campaign?

Ari> 97Percent had recently released their research-backed package of policies which were supported by both non-gun owners AND gun owners, which informed our work. The fact that law-abiding gun owners backed these policies but historically hadn’t had as loud a voice on this topic meant we could help bridge this divisive issue by letting Americans know there’s common ground to be found.

LBB> More generally, what are your thoughts on the way that issues such as gun control are portrayed in the media and advertising today? 

Amber> Again, when we put a mirror up to our industry, even some of the most awarded creative work on gun safety felt like it was reinforcing what we already know - which is the rate at which children are harmed due to outdated gun safety laws is an atrocity. What we thought was missing was a tangible move toward giving gun owners a chance to be part of the solution. 

LBB> What inspired the shooting range element of the creative and why was that provocative approach the right one? 

Amber> We knew the idea of ‘a gun safety petition only a gun owner can sign’ would stop folks in their tracks. It took the act of firing a gun, an undeniably powerful action, and used it exclusively to express a desire for better protection from the misuse of guns in our country. Logically that took us to the backdrop of a protected space like a gun range for two important reasons 1) to find real participants and 2) to maintain a high level of safety when taking aim at the target.

LBB> Personally, how did working on this campaign affect you?

Ari> As we began to share this work within our organisation, what surprised me was how many gun owners we had, and how many felt that this campaign allowed them to openly discuss what responsible gun ownership means to them. It was a reminder of the power of what’s possible when an underrepresented group is given a platform for change and a voice.


LBB> What were the trickiest components and how did you overcome them?

Ari> The most difficult component of this campaign to overcome was its intentionality and tonality. So many campaigns look to shock the public or shame gun owners, which has become the default approach. We all remarked while making this work that ‘it hits differently’, it’s a more honest and genuine approach to the subject than a lot of work out there.

LBB> Any parting thoughts?

Ari> It is easy to become apathetic to this issue and assume ‘nothing’s going to change’. And it’s very easy to become defeatist about this. But over the course of making this work, and sadly the countless lives lost due to gun-related homicides, it only strengthened our resolve for the need for change. As much as ‘Aim for Change’ is a call to action for gun owners, we’d like to think it will become a rallying cry for the ad industry to approach the issue differently.

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Wunderman Thompson USA, Tue, 06 Jun 2023 13:27:00 GMT