Putting Gang Violence Under The Microscope

How do you solve a problem like gang violence? Compare its deadliness to that of cancer, smallpox and H.I.V.

A pro bono campaign launched last week created by A Community That Cares, a local grassroots advocacy group in the Lower Mainland of British Columbia that examines street gangs on a "cellular" level.

"Youth Against Gang Violence" consists of TV, online and outdoor components, with "Microcosm," a 30-second TV spot, knocking my socks off. The spot contains no spoken words, letting the harsh visual reality speak for itself.

The viewer is looking at slides of deadly diseases under a microscope: smallpox, cancer and H.I.V.

The fourth slide resembles what sickle cell anemia might look like on a cellular level -- but upon closer inspection, the cells morph into a group of gang members assaulting others. The disease is labeled "Street Gang" and the ad concludes with the copy, "Ganglife Kills" and the Web site Watch the ad here.

DDB Vancouver created the offline campaign and Tribal DDB developed the interactive components.

To further grasp the seriousness of gang violence, the agency interviewed past and present gang members, along with experts on gang violence, about ways to target 13- to 14-year-old males.

"In our discussions with current and ex-gang members, we realized that the only good stories we heard from people were stories of survival," said Brett Macfarlane, account supervisor at DDB Vancouver. "In a lot of ways the people who escape gang life are a lot like the survivors of cancer. That thought led us to making a visual analogy between the cells of deadly diseases to the members of street gangs," he said.

The Web site also uses the petri dish theme, with each microbe representing a clickable link to audio clips of gang-related street crimes, a forum to post comments and a list of the maximum sentences for gang crimes in Canada.

"What attracts people to a gang is the perception of it being a glamorous life with money, cars, power and total control," said Daryl Gardiner, associate creative director at DDB Vancouver. "The reality is once you get in, the end is going to be a life of fear that ends in severe beatings, imprisonment or death," said Gardiner.

Mock gang recruitment posters are being placed on telephone poles in skate parks and recreation centers, each listing a phone number that plays the gang-related crime audio clips found on the Web site.

There's even a guerilla component to the campaign consisting of strategically placed gunshell casings branded with the URL. Someone warn Boston.

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