The nonprofit Sandy Hook Promise employed a common literary technique-a red herring- in their latest PSA video.

The first half of the video shows an endearing high school story. It opens with a male student writing “I AM BORED” on a school library desk. When he returns there the next day, someone has written back in cursive, “Hi, Bored! Nice to meet you.” He goes throughout his school days, writing messages back and forth and looking for the mystery person around the cafeteria and hallways. When the library closes for the summer, it seems that he has lost all hope for finding the mystery girl. In the next scene, Evan signs a girl’s yearbook in the same kind of handwriting and her friend recognizes it from the desk. She guesses, “Hey! you must be bored?” They begin to talk, but a door opens in the background and a silhouette of a student with a large gun appears.

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The students flee and the screen goes black with this eerie message.

Screen Shot 2016-12-09 at 2.13.19 PMAnd then the words, “But no one noticed.” I certainly didn’t. Then the previous story replays but highlights the signs of the student planning his shooting-reading a gun magazine, making gun gestures, showing violent tendencies, and an Instagram threat. The first montage played with upbeat folk music, but this time the music is slow and fear-inducing. It made my stomach drop.

After this, it shows the following as well as a call to action to “Learn more about the signs” and a link within the screen to the organization’s website:

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While this video’s message is jarring, its use of the red herring to make its point clear is fitting.

Another example of a red herring was in this Apple commercial. An antisocial teenager appears to miss out on spending time with his family by being connected to his iPhone all the time. But the end of the video shows that the boy was capturing his family’s memories on his iPhone camera.

Again, the red herring reinforces the point of the ad: iPhone usage at the holidays can be a positive. The point isn’t made as explicitly as the Sandy Hook one, but the message isn’t as pressing. Words aren’t necessary because the family’s response describes the attitude Apple wants customers, even cynical ones, to take about technology usage in daily life.

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