The Lost Class

Leo Burnett Department of Design

Fake Branding Materials for James Madison Academy

Manuel and Patricia Oliver lost their son, Joaquin, in the Parkland shooting mere months before he was set to graduate. This year, we worked with them to get a divided America to unify around the need for universal background checks and show how this legislation could save the lives of children like their son. The Olivers’ pain of not seeing their child graduate high school is a reality for thousands of families who have lost a child to gun violence. For them, graduation season is a tragic reminder of lost potential.

Firearms are the leading cause of death for children and teens in America. This year alone, 3,044 members of the high school class of 2021 didn’t graduate because they were killed by a gun. To call attention to this, we held a graduation ceremony for this Lost Class, where each empty chair represented a student who should’ve graduated if we had laws like universal background checks. But it wasn’t enough to paint a picture. We had to confront the problem. So, we invited two prominent pro-gun advocates to deliver the The Lost Class’ commencement addresses.

To do this, we created James Madison Academy, a fake online high school named after the author of the Second Amendment. The language and ethos of the school’s website were written to appeal to right-wing sensibilities. We then invited David Keene, former NRA President, and John Lott, author of More Guns, Less Crime, to make the school’s commencement speech. We filmed their speeches during what they believed was a dress rehearsal. But really, they were speaking to The Lost Class of 2021, in effect facing the consequences of careers spent lobbying against common-sense gun legislation. In doing this, these two gun advocates became the unlikely spokesmen for our gun violence PSA. Each film encouraged viewers to sign Change the Ref’s petition to pass universal background checks for gun sales, a petition that now has over 40,000 signatures.

There were three major design challenges we needed to overcome throughout this project. The first involved developing the logo design for The Lost Class. We needed a solution that would communicate a sense of loss while maintaining a collegiate, academic look. To address this, we chose a blackletter type styling and then to knock out "Lost" in the lockup as a way of communicating the empty space left behind by these students.

The second design challenge involved developing the look and feel for James Madison Academy. It needed to feel institutional and exclusive while nodding subtly to the fact that this school represents something much bigger. To connect JMA's identity with that of The Lost Class, we used the same fonts between both designs. We also developed a crest for JMA which includes the motto "Acts non verbal." In Latin, this phrase means "deeds, not words" which points to the fact that we need more than the empty words of politicians to solve America's gun violence epidemic.

The third and final design challenge involved the arrangement of the chairs at the ceremony. We wanted a solution that would instantly communicate the gravity of this loss (which is continued year after year). In developing the ceremony's seating arrangement, we took inspiration from the arrangement of headstones at the Arlington National Cemetery. By aligning our white chairs in perfect rows with no center aisle, we were able to create a sea of seats that looked like a cemetery.

Leo Burnett Chicago
Global CCO
Liz Taylor
Andrew Swinand
EVP, Executive Creative Director
Sam Shepherd
VP, Design Director
Kyle Poff
Associate Creative Director
Jason LaFlore
Associate Creative Director
Matt Turnier
MacKenzie Hart
Art Director
Sofia Gahn
Junior Copywriter
Kelley Barrett
Junior Art Director
Katie DiNardo
EVP, Head of Production
Mike Davidson
SVP, Executive Producer
Ashley Geisheker
Associate Producer
Kaitlin Bucaro
SVP, Director, Production Operations
Michael Shanahan
Production Manager
Julie Lewandowski
Account Director
Amy Walloch
Head of Planning
Kaylin Goldstein
VP, Strategy Director
Nimisha Jain
Sean Logan
Creative Resource Director
Nancy Parnell
Associate Creative Resource Director
Phoebe Alvarez
Production Company
Hungry Man
Bryan Buckley
Matt Lefebvre
Jordan Cohen
Executive Producer
Caleb Dewart
Executive Producer
Mino Jarjoura
Director of Photography
Scott Henriksen
Neil Dacosta
Web Development
Unicorns & Unicorns
Executive Producer
Adrianne McCurrach
Meg Amicucci
Technical Creative Director
Sun Komen
Associate Creative Director
Ceara Adamson
Danny Wirick
Jason Macdonald
JK Carrington
Ryan Bukowski
Chris VanDyke
Assistant Editor
Grace Yang
Assistant Editor
Riley Donigan
Resolve Finisher
Maxwell Redinger
Executive Producer
Corina Dennison
Color Studio
Gregory Reese
Color Assistants
Corey Martinez + David Oh
Jenny Bright
Thatcher Peterson
Music, Mix + Sound Design
Beacon Street
Andrew Feltenstein + John Nau
Leslie Dilullo
Rommel Molina
Lindsey Lerman
Project link