The gun problem is a branding problem that needs brilliant brand people and about 10% of the money spent on the recent presidential political campaigns
Every parent, every adult, everyone smarter than a fifth grader knows that 5-7 year old children should never be violently and indiscriminately slaughtered in school – or anywhere. So why are we once again having the same old, senseless, dead-end debate about guns in our society? We’ve had this debate, ad nauseam, for decades and the outcome has always been the same – more innocent bodies lying dead at the end of assault weapons.
We know that the politicians are no closer to solving it and the psychologists are no closer to understanding it and no one has stopped going to the mall, theater or school. And we know it will happen again – and again and again.
Since the 1980s the number of people killed by mass murderers in public places as increased dramatically. Of the 12 deadliest shootings in U.S. history, six have taken place since 2007 (Newtown ranks second). Mass killings are increasing even though other types of homicides and violent crimes are decreasing. During most of the 20th century there were, on average, a handful of mass killings each decade, but that has increased since 1980. Between 1980 and 2008, 4,685 people died in 965 mass-murders, according to a Scripps-Howard study of FBI data. The New York Times stated that there have now been at least 62 mass shootings in the past three decades, with 24 in the last seven years alone. Brad Plumer in the Washington Post states that half of the 12 deadliest shootings in American history have taken place over the past five years.
But it is not about the numbers
The “numbers game” is a hamster wheel to nowhere that both the pro-gun and anti-gun supporters get caught up in. One life gone is one too many when it is preventable, and 20 young children’s lives gone is unacceptable. It doesn’t matter what the pros and cons are, how slim the odds of mass slaughter are, how much money/profit is at risk; the truth is, it does not have to happen at the level it does. Somebody has to change the thinking, we need a grassroots movement that taps into the collective common sense.
A common sense movement
We are very good at getting people to want and consume things they really don’t need – bigger TVs, bigger Macs, bigger cars, better iPhones, fancier espressos, crappier movies. So why don’t we get them to decrease their want for something they really don’t need – faster, deadlier guns. We’ve done it for smoking, drunk driving, drugs – all killers – so let’s do it for guns. It’s not an anti-gun movement, it’s a common sense movement.
Here’s a peek at the thinking our society is up against. The CEO of Smith and Wesson, James Debney, told investors (before the Newtown massacre) that the long-gun market (shotguns and bolt-action rifles) was “soft” but the market for semi-automatic rifles (like used in Newtown) – and euphemistically called the “modern sporting rifle” – were “very, very popular.” That’s a marketing guy’s dream and a school teacher’s nightmare. Debney added that there was also future potential with “a younger demographic” that “grew up playing video games” and was “very interested in firearms.” Yikes! And we wonder if those violent video games have an impact on our kids. Maybe that’s part of the reason the recent movie, Texas Chainsaw Massacre 3D grossed $23million its first weekend. Debney also said they were interested in attracting more women to guns and some clever marketer has come up with something just for the ladies. Gals, you can start “packing” something extra in your bra with a handy little “bra holster” (see 1 minute video). Men, ya’ might want to think twice about how close you “check’em out.”
Building a competing brand
In business, we know the power of brand: Apple, Coke, BMW, Marlboro, AK-47, Bushmaster, Berretta, etcetera. We also know how good branding can help us get rid of unwanted blights in our society. Tell the world how bad and irresponsible a company and its products are and get them to change. By pass the feeble politicians and rapacious lobbyists (NRA) and go directly after the makers. It’s been done before:
- Smoking: There have been many great ad campaigns and unadulterated fear-mongering against smoking and the manufacturers of cigarettes. We branded smoking as a killer and overcame some of the most powerful brands ever created, Marlboro, Winston, Camel.
- Drinking: MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Driving) is a great brand created by a bunch of mothers who had had enough. Now it’s time for some more moms and dads to take on guns.
- Pedophiles: The outing of the Catholic Church was a long and arduous struggle but now the brand “the Catholic Church,” is often used as a pejorative. And all the Pope’s horses and all the Pope’s men, cannot put it back together again.
- Climate change: Al Gore may not have “invented the Internet” but he certainly branded climate change as “An Inconvenient Truth.”
- Terrorism: There has never been a more visceral brand image of terrorism than the numbers “9/11” and its corollary, the “Axis of Evil,” which, ironically, became an evil war itself.
- Football concussions: The NFL is playing catch up and trying to rebrand their image because, for decades, they ignored the long-term damages of concussions. The movement is permeating football from the professional to peewee level.
- Gay marriage: Lawmakers everywhere (locally, state and nationally) are changing the laws because the definition, image and brand of marriage is changing. Slowly, they are catching up to the reality. I say slowly because homosexuality was a common and accepted thing more than 2000 years ago in the wise-old-days of ancient Greece.
Let’s change the discussion and the target
Instead of asking those in power to “ban” or “control” guns, let’s aim at the root cause and a simpler solution. To re-coin a phrase: “It’s the guns, stupid” – specifically the god-awful, killing machines they call assault weapons. If these deranged, feel-my-manhood, war machines were simply not available at all then they wouldn’t be killing anyone. It’s that simple. Don’t make them available to anyone but police and military. Period. No ordinary citizen needs one, let alone two, three, six. They kill violently and in large numbers. The only reason these killers are made is for money; money spent by people who get their jollies from fantasizing about being G. I. Joe, Rambo or riding shotgun on John Kerry’s swiftboat. Or marching down the Mississippi with “Old Hickory,” Andrew Jackson. If we tell them to save their money because these guns will no longer be available (and we grind up the ones already made), we will make huge inroads into the problem. And they get to save some money and we get to save more lives.
The power of brand
This is a business problem – money. The business of manufacturing guns is big business, estimated at over $4 billion annually in the US. There are many small firms and a few big players. The biggest is Cerberus Capital Management, a private equity firm that owns numerous gun manufacturing companies, including Freedom Group, which sold 1.2 million long guns and 2.6 billion rounds of ammunition in the 12 months ended March 2010 (most recent figures available). There was an in depth article in the New York Times that set out Cerberus’s business. Other large manufacturers are Smith and Wesson and Ruger. Smith and Wesson has sales north of $500 million and after recent sales increases, S&W’s stock rose to $11 a share from around $3 a year ago. After the Newtown massacre, it dropped below $8.
Brand management – damage control
Already the gun issue has become a branding opportunity for those opposed to guns. On Tuesday, Dec. 18th, Slate carried a story that Cerberus was planning to sell off its investment in Freedom Group, the manufacturer of the rifle that was used in the Newtown shootings. Cerberus said, in part: “It is apparent that the Sandy Hook tragedy was a watershed event that has raised the national debate on gun control to an unprecedented level.” Looks like Cerberus is getting out while the gettin’ is good. They know that the Bushmaster, despite being the most popular rifle in America, now has an irreparably damaged brand (BTW, it was also the brand used by the Washington, DC sniper in 2002). The overall brand for assault weapons has taken a hit, which makes it an ideal time to start campaign a common sense campaign.
Guns or candles? What kind of America do we want?
It’s time to start a massive branding movement: Guns or candles? And it shouldn’t be difficult to get support – appeal to the parent in all of us. Assault the assault weapons. Brand the truth about them. They are worthless, unnecessary killing machines and our society has no practical or reasonable use for them. Make them for military purposes only and license and label them as such:
- For military use only
- May be dangerous to your life – and others
- Side effects: Could cause injury, loss of eyes, limbs and loved ones as well as physical and emotional pain – stress, distress, depression, anxiety, shortness of breath, tears and vomiting. Immediately consult your psychiatrist if you come in contact with this product.
The only reason for the existence of these weapons is to make money. And the gun makers make a bundle by preying on the fantasies of wannabe soldiers, “freedom fighters” and nutcases who want to be remembered as mass murders. Obviously, we can’t stop all the “nuts” but if the nut is using a six-shooter, there’s a good chance a heroic security guard, crossing guard, teacher or policeman will take him down before he can reload. That would save lives – maybe less than six dead, instead of twenty-seven (Newtown) or thirty-two (Virginia Tech).
If we can raise a billion dollars for a political campaign surely we can do the same to protect our children. The safety of our children is more important than who gets elected as president because none of them have done much about this heinous travesty foisted on innocent people. Some bright branding firm should make a proposal to President Obama because during his four year term he will preside over the death-by-guns of some 48,000 Americans. Joe Biden’s committee will come up with “something” but if it does not include a extensive campaign to change the perception of these weapons of war and brand some common sense into the majority of the people then it will come up short.
Whistling past the cemetery
America is a gun culture. Accept it. It has been since the era when they penned the Second Amendment and Aaron Burr shot Alexander Hamilton. Guns have always been strapped to the American psyche and held as close as a mother’s new born and they are part of being American, being a man (see ad above), and of living the dream of “ … life, liberty and the pursuit of vengeance.” It’s an unending legacy of heroes, villains and deranged anomalies, from John Wilkes Booth, Wyatt Earp and Jesse James to John Hinckley, Bernhard Goetz and George Zimmerman. And now Adam Lanza.
The debate about “gun control,” “mental illness” and the ”right to bear arms” is nothing more than a distraction – a merry-go-round of angry recriminations and political blather that does nothing to solve the recurring and tragic loss of innocent lives. The politicians and corporate leaders are just whistling past the cemetery. They’re talking about the wrong things: Banning something, controlling something, fixing something (the “nuts”), all of which, we are told, are complex issues that are difficult to resolve. First, let’s admit that this discussion is bullshit – spin, noise, propaganda, whistling in the wind while innocence gets blown away. Then let’s do what is right: Pass laws that allow assault weapons to be owned and operated only by the military and police, no exceptions.
Change comes slowly, and usually after prolonged searing pain. Unfortunately, as they say, This is America … home of the free, home of the brave …” and home of the slow-fix in a deeply divided culture to which history is the eye witness: slavery, women’s suffrage, lynchings, civil rights … unrestricted assault weapons. Some people think nothing much can be done to overpower big money but this time, just maybe, others are on the edge of a visceral human outcry of “Enough!” Perhaps the beast has awakened and angry voices will replace the faint candles and a fearsome, organic scream will rise out of the pain: “Let our children be massacred and hell shall know no fury …”