‘Real Gun Bill’ Campaign Assigns a Zero-Dollar Value to Senators’ ‘Thoughts and Prayers’

3 creatives collaborated to show that lack of action following gun violence means nothing

The fake zero-dollar bills feature Marco Rubio's face and "Thoughts and Prayers" to show discontent for a lack of action following gun violence. Real Gun Bill

There’s a common refrain among conservative politicians in the wake of mass shootings involving sending “thoughts and prayers” to families of victims and others impacted by these tragedies.

A group of creatives teamed up to launch a campaign assigning a precise value to these “thoughts and prayers”: absolutely nothing. For their “Real Gun Bill” campaign, Bentley University MBA student and freelance copywriter Sai He, FF (formerly Fred & Farid) New York junior copywriter Gabriel Sehringer and BBDO New York junior art director Justine Pelayo created mock zero-dollar bills featuring the images of nine U.S. senators, who receive a large amount of funding from the NRA, and their contact info, accompanied by the words “Thoughts and Prayers” to quote their response to gun violence tragedy. They then circulated bills of Marco Rubio around New York City and Boston, leaving them near banks and ATMs and passing them out on the N, R and A trains in New York. As of this Tuesday, 1,000 bills were passed out.

He and Sehringer met via Modern Copywriter. Sehringer reached out after the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting to ask if He would be interested in working on a project related to gun reform.

After each gun violence tragedy, Sehringer said, he noticed a pattern: “outrage and shock,” followed by “lawmakers sending their thoughts and prayers” and “ultimately nothing would happen and there’d be no change, and then there’d be another shooting, a month later, two months later.”

“There hasn’t been any meaningful legislation that has been passed,” he added. “We just wanted to find a way to do our small part to help.”

Deciding that they “wanted to make any difference, no matter how small,” they realized no one had created a project playing off the meaningless “thoughts and prayers” response employed as a reaction by so many politicians. They set out to create something to “symbolize very clearly how little it means.”

He added that the approach also calls out “the utter hypocrisy of these lawmakers that get all this money from the NRA.”

Sehringer and He reached out to Pelayo to finalize the concept and help bring it to life. That proved more difficult than anticipated, as legislation around reproducing currency meant they had to tread a fine line in making the bills as realistic as possible without being so realistic that they violated federal law. Ultimately they had to ensure the bills were 10 percent larger than U.S. dollar bills and looked different enough that they wouldn’t be confused for actual U.S. currency.

“Since it’s not legal to design a new bill, [Pelayo] had to piece together, essentially, a photo of a real bill as well as she could, pull that in and recreate and then edit all the original elements,” Sehringer explained.

Since printing bills of all nine senators would have proved considerably more costly, they decided to focus on Marco Rubio. In researching the project, Sehringer explained, they found six separate instances of Rubio offering “thoughts and prayers” following mass shootings, also citing the recent spotlight on the Florida senator’s lack of action following the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting.

Bills for the other eight senators can be found on the campaign landing page and shared on social media. Each bill contains contact information for the senator so that viewers can contact them and demand they introduce gun control legislation.

Sehringer noted that Whitehouse Post and its editor Devin Stevens were instrumental in creating the video for the campaign, going through a painstaking editorial process. SixtyFour Music also contributed an original composition and Wave Studios NYC worked on the sound design.

“I really do want to continue carrying this out, even if it’s a grassroots approach like we did yesterday [handing out 1,000 Rubio bills], and to get people talking about [gun control] and to have, hopefully, the Parkland students notice them as well so that they can use their channels to go about getting it in front of the nation,” He said. “I’m hoping that this blows up just so that people see it and they understand that they can call their senators to introduce a gun bill.”

“It seems like the gun conversation gets dropped fairly quickly.” Sehringer added. “It’s only been a month since the [Washington Gazette] shooting and already people have moved on. For the most part, it seems people have very short attention spans for one particular issue.”

Sehringer explained that someone at the Capital Gazette reached out to them to request bills to pass out to Capital Gazette staff and family of survivors and that Marjory Stoneman Douglas students had noticed their campaign on Twitter. A next step for the campaign includes making the images downloadable, a request Sehringer said they keep getting on Twitter.

“We felt like it was a good time since it’s not really a hot moment to be talking about guns,” Sehringer said. “We felt it was even more opportune to put it back in people’s minds, and even if we can get one or two more people talking about gun control today than they were yesterday, that’s already a small difference.”


Copywriters: Sai He, Gabriel Sehringer
Art Director: Justine Pelayo

Director: Gabriel Sehringer
Dir. of Photography: Ian Rice
Editor: Devin Stevens
Composer: Alex Nicholls-Lee
Music Agency: SixtyFour Music
Executive Producers, music: Rebecca Grierson, Nick Crane
Sound Design and Mix: Chris Afzal
Sound House: Wave Studios NYC
Executive Producer, sound: Vicky Ferraro

Copywriters: Sai He, Gabriel Sehringer
Art Director: Justine Pelayo
Designer: Bobby Suta

@ErikDOster erik.oster@adweek.com Erik Oster is an agencies reporter for Adweek.