A guy walks into the restroom at a bar and looks in the mirror ...
It sounds like the setup for a one-liner, but for customers at a bar in Los Angeles, it was anything but a joke.
Rather than seeing their own likeness when they looked into the mirror, the patrons at this party — many of them obviously tipsy — saw Kris Caudilla looking back at them in blue prison overalls. And he wasn’t just looking, he was talking, sharing his tragic story and warning them not to make the same mistake he did by driving drunk.
The after-hours apparition was not the result of too many cocktails. Caudilla was playing the leading role in a different kind of public service announcement aimed at building new momentum in the fight against drunken driving.
A video of the restroom encounters, titled "Reflections from Inside," shows Caudilla, 32, at the RMC Correctional Facility in Lake Butler, Florida, preparing to go on camera before cutting to an unidentified L.A. bar where patrons are whooping it up at a private party.
The scene then switches to the men’s restroom, where male patrons come face to face with Caudilla, who greets them from the mirror with a friendly “What’s up, man?”
After appearing to exchange a few pleasantries with the stunned partygoers, Caudilla tells them he’s speaking to them from prison and recounts how in January 2010 he killed St. Johns County, Florida, Deputy James Anderson Jr., a 44-year-old married father of four, in a head-on collision while driving home after a night of drinking with friends.
"I made the choice to drink. I made the choice to get in the car," Caudilla tells them after explaining that he is serving a 15-year sentence for DUI manslaughter. "You don’t have to make that choice."
The message appears to hit home with the patrons, several of whom assure Caudilla that they have no intention of getting behind the wheel.
The spot was created by the Y&R Miami Bravo advertising agency on behalf of We Save Lives, a highway safety nonprofit led by Candace Lightner, the founder of Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD).
Lightner, 69, who founded MADD after her 13-year-old daughter, Cari, was killed by a drunken driver in 1980, told NBC News that the agency proposed focusing on a perpetrator of a tragedy rather than the victims that are traditionally featured in such PSAs.
"I said why not, because the numbers haven’t shifted, even though more laws have passed and PSAs abound," she said, referring to U.S. drunken driving deaths, which have remained flat in recent years after declining sharply from the early 1980s until 2010.
The filming of the spot involved some technical trickery, since prison officials would not let Caudilla interact live with the bar patrons. Instead, his statements and questions were filmed in advance and played on cue via a monitor behind the mirror in response to the comments of the drinkers.
The partygoers were aware they were being filmed but didn’t know why, accounting for their genuine surprise when they encountered the man in the mirror. It was only at one specific party where Caudilla's video played.
The PSA also was created with social media in mind, with the idea that a talking bathroom mirror might prove popular online.
The strategy appears to be working: the PSA already has been viewed more than 35 million times on social media in the U.S. alone since it was published April 8. All told, it has at least 75 million views in more than 25 countries, according to a spokeswoman for We Save Lives.
After seeing the modest initial goal of 1 million views quickly eclipsed, MADD's Lightner said her group now has a much higher milestone in mind.
"We decided let’s go for it and set a goal of reaching 500 million drivers around the world," she said. "It’s like there are no boundaries when it comes to language."