This week’s most talked about ad campaign doesn’t even seem like an ad at first glance.
The enigmatic "Evan" has popped up on news websites and viral aggregators across the web, with titles teasing its remarkable mystery and brilliant twist ending.
With leads like these, it is perhaps unsurprising that the campaign has stirred up such media interest, but "Evan" absolutely deserves the attention. As well as being one of 2016’s most chilling campaigns, it is easily one of the year’s most memorable.
Before we proceed, let’s be clear that we can’t really discuss "Evan" without spoiling it, so consider this fair warning. As with any great story, be it Citizen Kane or the new season of Gilmore Girls, part of the enjoyment is in the surprise.
And "Evan" does begin as a fun, pleasurable romp, playing like a montage from a John Hughes’ high school film.
In the spot, our teenage hero Evan takes out his frustration with school life by scribbling "I’m bored" across the library desk. Returning to the desk the next day, Evan discovers a response from a mysterious stranger.
And so begins a cute correspondence that takes over Evan’s life. As the messages continue to appear, he grows ever more curious about who might be writing them. Then, the library shuts for summer, seemingly cutting off his new friendship forever. However, in the final moments, Evan notices the same handwriting on a yearbook, finally uniting him with his mysterious companion. Happy ending, right?
But then something else happens. In these final moments, a shadowed figure enters the room, waving a gun. The spot cuts to black as the sound of children running rings out. It’s a haunting, shocking ending followed by a stark titlecard: "While you were watching Evan, another student was showing signs of planning a shooting".
At this point, the ad’s connection to the non-profit organisation Sandy Hook Promise becomes abundantly clear.
Four years after the Sandy Hook massacre, in which 26 children and adults were shot at a Connecticut elementary school, the awareness group has worked with agency BBDO to produce a campaign drawing attention to the warning signs associated with such seemingly random acts of horrific violence.
It’s a bracing message, but a vital one. After the ad’s breezy first half, we rewind to see the would-be shooter in the background of nearly every shot.
We see this unnamed student as he’s bullied, exhibits anti-social behaviour, researches weapons online and ultimately announces his intentions on social media
Really "Evan" is a very clever sort of bait-and-switch, using the viewer’s desire for narrative to trick us, while the real, sadder story takes place in plain sight.
"Evan" will no doubt continue to be circulated widely online, as viewers are eager to share the campaign’s clever twist, as well as its message of vigilance and understanding.
Sandy Hook Promise and BBDO have produced a spot that conveys a difficult message in an innovative, attention-grabbing manner and for that they deserve all the plaudits they’re getting.