Violence in Chicago is nothing new to its residents. Since 1990, the number of murders per year has averaged one a day, ranging from 442 in 2007 to 943 in 1993.
Just 117 days into 2010, the city looks to be on track to meet this brutal trend with 106 murders to date. Although this year’s tally is actually down compared to previous years, the brutal nature of recent crimes has led to a request from two Illinois state representatives to bring in the National Guard.
While lawmakers quibble over the inconsequential details of what the National Guard's presence might mean to them politically, anti-violence campaigns and programs continue to fight what seems to be a losing battle, using advertising messages and a variety of government and non-profit programs in an effort to stem the rising death toll.
It’s hard not to notice the presence of Cease Fire in Chicago; out-of-home executions and bumper stickers abound, featuring a small child and the headline, “Don't shoot. I want to grow up.”
In a decidedly more controversial effort, the Chicago offices of Young & Rubicam (Y&R) have taken a different tack: humor. While witty executions seem to spit in the face of loss experienced by many Chicago residents, shocking people into awareness might be what the city needs, effectively driving the message into the heart of Chicagoans.
Y&R’s pro-bono campaign for the Illinois Council Against Handgun Violence doesn’t try to argue that violence is a problem in the Windy City or warn of the long-term consequences when violence is used to "solve" problems. Instead, the campaign subtly reminds Chicago's residents that something has to be done to stop the endemic problem. Now.
The executions seem lighthearted and fun, featuring fashionably outfitted kids wearing big smiles. Closer inspection shows that the children are also wearing bullet-proof vests. The copy starts out innocently, then drives the point home.
One execution depicts two young girls and the headline, "Alive on Arrival." The text proves ominous: "Whether it's just a bit chilly or raining bullets, this cozy vest is sure to protect your child from all the elements."
Another shows a boy with a baseball bat, no doubt heading for a game. The boy's face is lit up with a smile, and the headline reads, "Live boy walking." Reading further, "Turn the local park back into a playground. This vest fits snug, while leaving arms and hands free to raise in the air for that 'don't shoot I'm innocent' stance."
Once the ads have your attention, the details of Chicago's problem are sobering: In 2010, more than 150 Chicago children have been shot, 25 fatally.
The contrast between the sunny images and dark copy bring Y&R's campaign to life, an effort to catch the audience unprepared. It works. The "unfunny" depiction of kids in Kevlar, however, might be taken as an assault on the grief experienced by those who've lost a child or loved one on Chicago's violent streets, resulting in public outcry.
That's exactly what Chicago needs.