Long before I ever thought of buying a gun, I’ve been a marketing guy. I look at virtually everything from the perspective of marketing, and everything I see is filtered through the prism of “how is this being marketed to consumers?” before anything else. A lot of the marketing work I’ve done was in the field of computer software, back when that industry was young. Which, oddly enough, gives me a unique perspective on how guns are marketed.

Most industries go through some identifiable phases, with marketing that matches each phase. It works something like this:

  1. Embryonic Phase: the industry is just coming into being, the ads are fairly unsophisticated and crude, and marketing targets early adopters. There are more customers than merchandise, and sales come easy.
  2. Young Phase: the industry matures just a bit, as competition rears it’s head. Ads become more competitive, and as the early adopter market is sated, marketing targets the average consumer. Sales are a little harder to come by, and there’s competition for every sale.
  3. Mature Phase: the industry settles down. Some players are acquired, some fold. Ads become much more sophisticated and competitive. Marketing targets specific demographics within the larger, general market. Sales competition is cutthroat.
  4. Senior Phase: as the general market reaches saturation, innovation becomes a thing of the past, the major players settle down into milking their leader status for steady, predictable income levels, and marketing becomes stale and predictable as well.

Believe it or not, it’s possible to jump back from the “senior” phase to a previous one. The firearms industry is in the midst of a new “Golden Age,” marked by new, innovative products, new markets, increased sales, and new approaches to marketing. I’d peg it as being in the “Young” phase, heading towards “Mature” in a few years.

Why? Well, if you pick up a gun mag, you’ll see some ads featuring provocatively-clad, busty young women (and we all know hot chicks dig guns, right? Um . . . not so much), text-heavy ads that emphasize features over benefits, and articles that feature dry facts over engaging writing.

You’ll also find companies that take a page or two from the playbook of marketers in other industries, and try their techniques on for size. This can result in some really bizarre marketing campaigns. Don’t believe me? Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the Free Gun campaign from Front Sight Firearms Training Institute.

Front Sight is one of a dozen or so ranges that specialize in teaching courses and seminars almost like a Junior College’s adult ed department, as opposed to selling memberships and/or range time. They offer a slew of courses, from beginner level “This is my rifle, this is my gun . . . .” to advanced courses on clearing a room of bad guys, dealing with multiple threats, et cetera. Cool stuff. They also offer a line of courses on video, for those who can’t make the trek out to Las Vegas for up-close and personal instruction.

That brings us to Front Sight’s offer for a FREE GUN. You may have seen their ads on a variety of websites. Or you may have been inundated by an overwhelming cascade of emails. Alternately, you may have visited their website.

Read up on what they are offering, and you’ll find that their inspiration must have come from too much exposure to Vince from ShamWOW! or some bizarre cult of direct mail marketers. (I’d swear that there has to be one lone copywriter, hunched over an old IBM Selectric somewhere outside Omaha that writes all the direct mail copy for everybody across America. The similarities in syntax and phrasing is just too weird.)

Front Sight offers you a “free gun” if by “FREE” you mean, “but wait . . . you also get . . .” you’re on the right track. The ‘free’ gun is part of a package with a ‘retail value’ of $3,400, that you get for the low, low price of $1,190.

Um . . . “free?” Not so much.

Where I come from, “free” means “at no cost.” Not “buy this, and I’ll throw in something at no additional cost.” Front Sight, of course, is free to market in whatever way they see fit. And I frankly think that anything they can do to promote the Second Amendment and responsible firearms ownership is a good thing. But creating ads that look like the Internet version of pitches for snake oil wouldn’t be my first choice for how to spread the gospel of guns.

But that’s just me. Your results may vary.

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