U.S. sales of guns and ammunition are soaring and living conditions due to COVID-19 regulations have led to loneliness, isolation, and despair — a lethal combination exacerbating not only the risk of suicide in general, but gun suicide in particular. Most Americans are unaware of the strong relationship between access to guns and gun suicide — a major barrier to addressing gun suicide.
As such, Ad Council partnered with manufacturing company Brady to raise awareness that safe storage for every gun in the household can be the difference between life and death.
To succeed, Ad Council and Brady needed to create enough impact for the audience to take action; to do that, the organizations needed to gain awareness and engagement. The organizations' primary goal was to see a significant difference in attitudes and behavior among those people who became aware of the campaign. The organizations also wanted to achieve awareness among at least a third of U.S. adults — potentially a tall order with the 2020 election limiting the availability of donated media to get the message in front of people. The organizations sought a significant increase in unique visitors to EndFamilyFire.org — because getting people to the site would mean the message was breaking through.
Through research and interviews with current gun owners, Ad Council and Brady found the largest segment could be referred to as having "moderate/mixed safety protocols," so this became the priority audience. They tend to report safe storage behaviors and/or attitudes, but there is often a mismatch between stated behaviors and reality. While most of their guns are for hunting and target practice, they also keep at least one gun loaded, unlocked, and close at hand for protection — thereby increasing the risk for gun suicide.
Most of this audience also believes that suicide in their home isn't possible — it's something that happens to other people. And they tend to believe guns are just one method of suicide, all methods are equal, and those who want to die will find a way with or without a gun. Ad Council and Brady needed to prove to them the significant link between access to improperly stored guns and gun suicide.
For most people who leave guns accessible in the home, the primary motivation is protection from outside evil. They are far less likely to think of the risk the gun itself can present to the safety of their loved ones. But with a gun, nine times out of 10, a suicide attempt is a suicide death. On average, 63 Americans die by gun suicide each day, almost twice the homicide rate.
In the video PSAs, Ad Council and Brady created a film that looks like a first-person shooter game but with a gutting twist. Print and out-of-home (OOH)gave real meaning to the stats with ed images of 63 individual spent shell casings to symbolize the number of American lives lost to gun suicide every day. And in radio, Ad Council and Brady shared real stories of the friends and family of loved ones lost to gun suicide, highlighting the daily loss of life, and the power that safe gun storage has to change that. All efforts pointed people to EndFamilyFire.org for tips on how to make their homes safer and resources for those seeking more facts about firearm suicide.
Brady, one of America's oldest gun safety groups, and the Ad Council launched the End Family Fire program in 2018 to save lives through education regarding safe gun storage. In 2020, the company put specific emphasis on promoting gun suicide prevention through safer gun storage. With continued emphasis on the link between gun storage and gun suicide, the goal is to help save lives and help End Family Fire.
Overall Campaign Execution:
The key component for the No Extra Life campaign was the PSA. The 15-second, 30-second, and 60-second versions of the film were created with a limited or pro bono production budget and were supported exclusively through donated media. The PSA was shared on TV as well as YouTube, Facebook, and Instagram social video channels. The campaign website — EndFamilyFire.org — and other owned social channels also supported the campaign. Additionally, print and OOH executions directed people to the campaign website for more information about gun suicide prevention.
The No Extra Life PSA was built in Unreal Engine, the same platform used by many premier game titles. Ad Council and Brady researched several first-person shooter games to ensure our lighting and design felt authentic to the category. Several weeks went into designing HUD elements that felt true to gaming without distracting from the action. Working in Unreal Engine allowed for experimentation with pacing and movement through the space to nail the perfect moment of reveal.
Gun owners say they keep locked and unloaded guns in their homes for protection from bad guys. By tapping into that mindset for the PSA Ad Council and Brady were able to create a very personal impact. They began with what looks very much like two people playing a first-person shooter video game. But as users search the house, the script is flipped. Viewers soon realize they're watching a man try to reach a loved one who has gotten access to his gun.
Suicide rates among children under 18 have grown 80 percent during the past decade, making suicide the second leading cause of death among our youth. Firearms are the number one means, accounting for over 40 percent of these deaths. That's because guns are incredibly lethal: 90 percent of attempts with a gun are fatal, versus just four percent on average by all other methods. Part of what makes guns so lethal is easy access. The youth suicide rate is four times as high in households with firearms, and that multiple soars in homes where guns are stored unlocked or loaded.
The pandemic and social unrest of 2020 exacerbated an already volatile combination. Gun sales surged, with an estimated 8.4 million new gun-owning households. Depression and anxiety surged, too, and the percentage of young adults having suicidal thoughts more than doubled from 11 percent to 26 percent. Most kids (70 percent) know where the guns are. For all too many, irreversible tragedy is only steps away. The challenge is that a lot of parents don't comprehend the risk. Since 2000, the percentage of people who believe having a gun in the home makes them safer has increased from 35 percent to 63 percent. But less than 10 percent of gun-owning adults with children agree that the presence of a firearm in the home increases the risk of suicide.
Ad Council and Brady wanted gun owners to recognize the link between gun storage and gun suicide to motivate them to improve gun storage practices, thereby helping to prevent gun suicides. Those aware of the campaign were dramatically more likely to conclude proper gun storage makes a difference and take action to store firearms safely — 70 percent agreed that storing all guns locked and unloaded in the home reduces the risk of dying by suicide, 51 percent talked to friends or family about safe gun storage, and 40 percent sought out information about ways to safely store firearms. Ad Council and Brady also achieved 55 percent overall campaign awareness, with 44 percent able to recall at least one of the PSAs and 32 percent remembering the "End Family Fire" tagline. Additionally, average monthly unique visitors to EndFamilyFire.org grew 25.6 percent during the first four months of the campaign.
This was a national campaign focused on a uniquely American problem. The work reached millions of gun owners — garnering more than 179 million impressions — and received a flood of positive feedback. One of the most chilling responses was a letter from a mother who wrote to thank Ad Council and Brady for saving her son's life. After seeing the PSA, she and her husband purchased a gun safe that very day. Unbeknownst to these parents, their son was dealing with mental health issues. When the teenager tried to kill himself, he was thwarted by the gun safety.