There’s a new ad slogan making the rounds: “It’s amazing what soup can do.” The company behind the campaign has spent millions promoting its pro-soup tagline. Quick! Is it Campbell, Lipton or Progresso? Campbell. If you didn’t know that, you might think Campbell is pissing away its money by pushing soup, rather than Campbell’s soup. In fact, it’s the perfect soup selling strategy, one that points the way forward for the mainstream American firearms industry. If gunmakers can learn from Campbell’s m-m-meisters, they could double their sales within a decade. Grab a spoon and let’s dig in . . .
Campbells sells 60 percent of America’s wet soup. Stealing 10 percent of the remaining non-Campbell-soup-buying American public’s patronage—one wet soup eater out ten—would cost the company big bucks. It would also require expensive research, product development and new advertising.
Why bother? If Campbell converts ten non-soup eaters to the joys of liquid-based nourishment, the company’s guaranteed six new customers. Bottom line: the key to Campbell’s growth is the overall growth of the soup market, not their share of the existing market.
When was the last—or first or ANY—time you saw an ad promoting gun ownership to non-gun owners? Truth be told, there’s a Berlin wall between gun owners and non-gun owners that’s hamstrung the firearms industry for decades. Mr. Smith & Wesson, tear down that wall!
Before I launch that particular polemic, I want to go back over this basic yet fundamental point: preaching to the converted puts the firearms industry on a hiding to nowhere. To re-illustrate the point, let’s switch to fizzy drinks, via spelmanresearch.com.
The carbonated soft drink segment has lost significant market share to bottled water and functional drinks in the US. Between 1997 and 2002, the share of the segment declined from 72% to 66%. This reflects a shift in consumer taste towards healthier beverages. Apart from health reasons, wider choice in non-carbonated beverages is also driving this trend.
So Coke spent huge amounts of money battling Pepsi with a seemingly endless parade of brand extensions and ends up with around 40 percent of a declining US cola market. Aside from developing Diet Vanilla Caffeine Free Coke, Coke fought the decline by buying Minute Maid, Glacier and other non-carbonated beverage makers. Instead of buying companies that compete for cola drinkers (i.e. against Coke) and worrying about Pepsi, Coca-Cola should have promoted cola drinking in general and reaped the rewards of a growing cola market.
Luckily, the U.S. firearms market is expanding. Right? Maybe. There’s no doubt that the existing firearms market accounted for the pre-post Obama surge, as the politically paranoid stocked-up on black rifles, ammo and more black rifles. While the soaring number of CCW permit applications also seems to indicates an influx of new gun buyers, it’s also possible that they’re mostly existing gun owners looking to take their firearms for a walk.
All of which brings us to the key equation: if the firearms industry can bring in brand new gun buyers, their sales will take off. The most optimistic/pessimistic estimate place U.S. gun ownership at 50 percent. If the industry can recruit just 20 percent of the non-gun buying group, the total number of firearms sales per year will double. Here’s how they can do it . . .
In 1996, The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence and their camp followers petitioned the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to ban firearms advertising. They argued that gun ads promising protection were false and misleading; [false and misleading quasi-academic] studies showed that guns made buyers were more likely to die from gunfire than, uh, people who didn’t own guns. New York pol Charles Schumer led the campaign:
Every year gun manufacturers spend millions of dollars advertising their weapons as effective means of self-protection even though study after study shows that having a gun in your home actually makes you less safe. “One ad for Beretta, shows a .380 pistol with the slogan `homeowner’s insurance.’
Yes! That’s exactly the kind of advertising the firearms industry needs. The good news: the FTC ultimately denied the Brady Bunch’s petition; firearms advertising is not restricted by federal fiat. So why haven’t I encountered ONE gun ad in a mainstream newspaper or magazine, on a single non-firearms Internet site, on any TV channel or radio show?
The mainstream media (MSM) bans firearms advertising as a matter of corporate policy. Denied an efficient method for reaching the unconverted with a pro-gun message, the firearms industry is stuck in an advertising ghetto, promoting its products in a pro-gun echo chamber (oh! choose me!). To increase sales, gunmakers need to reach out and touch people without guns, using advertising to stimulate their desire to tool-up.
The good news: the mainstream media is sinking fast. Anything life-saver shaped must be mighty tempting about now. Meanwhile, The National Shooting Sports Foundation should join forces with a gunmaker and sue an ad-banning media conglomerate for violating their First Amendment right to free speech. Of course it’s a stretch. But how else are you going to launch a gun owner’s boycott of the offending media mavens?
Love it or loathe, it, advertising is still society’s most powerful method for communicating ideas to people who’d no more read an editorial than wonder why they’ve never seen a book in an episode of MTV’s Cribs. The firearms industry must sell the idea of a defensive firearm to newbies before it can sell them a firearm. And it needs to clear the roadblocks to that sale before the deal can go down.
2. Enact Constitutional Carry
The first rule of marketing: make it easy to buy. Buying a gun in most states is slightly less of a PITA than adopting a Somali child. At worst, it’s like listening to Branjelina describing their United Nations-sponsored mission to end world peace. Hunger. Disease. Something.
I’d wager dollars to donuts that half of the half of the U.S. population that doesn’t own a gun doesn’t own a gun because they can’t be bothered to jump through all those legal hoops. For sales to grow, the hoops must go. Buying a gun should be as easy as renting a gun and just as much fun (don’t get me started about the ugly, unhelpful retail stores in which guns are now sold).
To that end, the firearms industry should mount a state-by-state and national campaign to make all of America “Constitutional Carry”. You want a gun? Sign here. Tick these boxes. Cash or credit card? No concealed carry permit required. No special firearms owner’s card either. Pay your money, take your gun and leave. Done.
Pro gun control forces will see any industry attempt to remove “common sense” sales impediments—I mean gun laws, as proof that the “gun lobby” is a bunch of amoral death merchants. And? For gun rights supporters, the firearm industry’s commercial interests align perfectly with the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, whose authors did not intend to make it difficult to buy a gun. Quite the opposite, in fact.
3. Recruit existing gun owners
Back when Toyotas were considered a risky not to say unpatriotic purchase, the automaker’s ads dared perspective buyers to “ask someone who owns one.” I don’t think many people walked up to a Toyota owner and asked if their car was more or less reliable than the earth’s rotation. But praising existing Toyota owners, getting them to come out of the closet, removed the social stigma of buying a Japanese car.
The same potential for gun-ownership-by-example exists in America’s non-gun enclaves. Here in Rhode Island, I’ve discovered a secret network of firearms enthusiasts. Unless I’d brought up the subject of guns in conversation, I’d have never known that there were so many gun owners within my largely anti-gun social circle. And by bringing up the subject, we’ve sucked many a non-gun owner into the firearms fraternity.
The firearms industry needs to encourage gun owners to spread the message that gun ownership is OK. In the words of the open carry movement, the industry’s growth depends on its ability to “normalize” gun ownership. Counterintuitively, the less of a big deal gun ownership becomes, the more non-gun people will buy in.
Which reminds me: open carry proponents are absolutely right. Nothing normalizes gun ownership like a gun. Open Carry may be strategically questionable, but it makes good business sense. The firearms industry needs to show the Open Carry movement big love.
There are other ways the firearms industry could take sales to the next level: reach out to the minorities, design and implement a comprehensive new media strategy, work with gun ranges to smooth and improve the ownership experience, etc. But the three ideas above would have the greatest impact on overall sales.
By raising product awareness, removing sales barriers and improving the product’s reputation, the firearms industry could usher in a new era of sustained profitability. It wouldn’t be easy. But it would be fun. And it would save thousands of lives and prevent hundreds of thousands of crimes. In case you were wondering.