Sometimes the right words don’t come soon enough. That’s the message behind “Too Late,” a new anti-bullying PSA by Deutsch NY and Champions Against Bullying. In the opening frame, a handsome teenage boy stands in his high school gym, reading a text, “You were beautiful and unique in every way.” (Importantly, he mumbles the “you were,” so that the viewers likely hear the words as “you’re.”) In the next frame, a young girl in the school theater reads from her phone, “Happy 15th to my beautiful friend.” And there’s a third student who reads, “That big smile of yours made my day.” The teens’ intonations clearly suggest that these are messages they have received from friends.
Sure, it’s a bit odd; we don’t expect teenagers to be so sentimental. But we easily put our misgivings aside. This spot, we assume, must demonstrate how kind words can help a friend who’s being bullied. That’s true–but not entirely accurate. In fact, all of the text messages were sent by the teens to one friend, in the wake of her suicide. The loving texts turn out to be remembrances, not reassurances. Once you realize this, the tag is like a punch in the gut: “Be Nice. Now.”
Like this year-in-review spot from the Dutch Alzheimer’s Foundation and this one from Save the Children, this ad uses the bait-and-switch technique to memorable effect. These spots lead us to believe we’re watching one scenario before dramatically pulling back the curtain to reveal a different truth–and more often than not, a harsh one.