Does Gun Marketing Matter?
[Author’s note: Target Marketing is not endorsing either side of the gun rights issue. This article is about marketing strategy.]
Besides MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow, those critiquing gun marketing seem to be getting it all wrong. The news show host is one of the few correctly identifying the firearm and its manufacturer’s marketing message. Others discussing the weapons a gunman used to kill 49 patrons of an Orlando nightclub on Sunday are even misidentifying the firearm’s make and model.
So that brings into question — does gun marketing even matter if Americans can’t even identify a specific product, let alone its marketing message?
Will some Americans buy guns no matter what the marketing message is? (See: “Gun Sales Surge Among Gays, Lesbians After Orlando Shooting” and “Orlando Shooting Has Increased Sales for Gun Shops Selling AR-15.”) Will the Americans who want gun control legislation dislike any gun-marketing message?
Target Marketing’s requests for comment on Wednesday went unanswered by Bushmaster Firearms, maker of the AR-15 that is incorrectly identified as the main weapon the shooter used on Sunday, and Sig Sauer, the manufacturer of the assault rifle he did use to kill and injure patrons of the Orlando nightclub.
Maddow devoted more than eight minutes of her hour-long show on Tuesday to the marketing behind the Sig Sauer MCX, and mentioned the handgun the shooter carried, showing that she believes that gun marketing profoundly does matter.
First, she notes, the Sig MCX marketing video repeatedly points out how easily the rifle’s stock folds up to make the gun smaller and more concealable. Maddow says while this marketing is targeted toward military and law enforcement personnel, the gun’s sold to the general public.
“In terms of understanding what happened inside that dark nightclub at two in the morning on Sunday and how one guy was able to kill 49 other people and wound at least that many,” she says, “it helps to know, and I think it’s chilling to know, that one of the things that this American gun company markets about this gun is that it is super easy to fire. It’s easier to fire than an AR-15 and it fires faster and with less kick than your standard AR-15.”
Part of the reason Maddow keeps mentioning the AR-15 is many talking about the Orlando tragedy continue to misidentify the firearm. For instance on Wednesday, John Hockenberry — host of public radio’s “The Takeaway” — repeatedly talked about the AR-15.
The article says relatives of the children killed by a gunman shooting an AR-15 in Newtown, Conn., are suing Bushmaster.
“Victims' lawyers contend the AR-15 is no good for hunting,” reads the Bloomberg News piece. “The weapons are designed to inflict as much damage as possible before law enforcement can arrive, according to the Newtown lawsuit, which claims the guns are ‘unethically, oppressively, immorally and unscrupulously marketed.’ ”
Bushmaster’s Facebook page mentions targeting military and law enforcement personnel, as well as general consumers, but also says: “We manufacture rifles for hunting, recreation, competition, home defense and security.”
— CulturesofResistance (@CulturesResist) June 14, 2016
This tweet is incorrect on two points: First, the Orlando weapon wasn’t a Bushmaster. Second, this ad is from 2010. However, the ad is named in the Newtown lawsuit and the 2016 catalog with all-male models, mostly in camo, does follow a theme that includes a call to action of “Keeping the natural order in order.”
The piece that’s perhaps the most critical of gun marketing does correctly identify the Sig MCX and its ads.
“ ‘Modern sporting rifle’ is a euphemism that the gun industry created in 2009 to describe modular semi-automatic rifles,” writes Justin Peters on Tuesday for Slate. “The phrase is an artful attempt to recast weapons such as the MCX and the AR-15 (and its variants) as all-American toys. Nevermind ‘quiet and deadly’ and ‘close-quarters battle’: ‘Modern sporting rifle’ conjures up images of aristocrats riding with their hounds, vacationers knocking clays out of the sky, and ruddy-faced athletes enjoying their autumns in Carhartt jackets and mud-spattered ATVs. The term is a genius act of marketing, meant to bring these deadly weapons into the mainstream and keep them there. It’s also disingenuous hokum that exists to cloud debate, like calling a used car ‘pre-owned.’ ”
As much as those who don't like current gun marketing parse the language and creative, and as much as gun owners soak up that marketing, the message may not be getting through about individual products. Much the same as many Americans complain about "the media," it seems there may be a general and uninformed view of what "gun marketing" is and especially which products carry which messages.
So that gets back to the question: Does gun marketing matter? Have consumers already made up their minds to buy or not to buy? And if they are going to buy, does the marketing make a difference about what they buy?
What do you think, marketers?
Please respond in the comments section below.