As distasteful as the arms industry may appear to many; i.e. those who would level allegations of profiteering or immoral lobbying practices, the relatively (to the rest of the West) unregulated American market provides interesting insights into consumer behavior and a masterclass in positioning and targeting in an increasingly segmented market. Pursuing segmentation as a strategy involves a unique marketing mix for each subgroup and a move away from mass marketing (Schiffman, L. G., & Kanuk, L. L. 2004, Ch 2), below is a cursory examination of how the firearms industry successfully targets (no pun intended) two extant and one emerging group.
Keen observers of the news will have noticed that after every mass-shooting in the US there is a surge in gun purchases, and an accompanying boost to the value of small arms industry securities.
With every occurrence, the international news media also runs similar stories about this phenomenon. The United States is saturated with firearms, conservative estimations run at around 300m, interestingly however, the percentage of households with registered guns has fallen to 43%, while the average quantity held by each licensed owner has increased to over 8 guns. Firearms represent highly involved, specialty purchases. The slew of online reviewers and industry video content is testament to that. There are only so many types of firearms, with only so many applications; different forms of hunting require different guns, but America is one of the few countries which allows the ownership of guns with the explicit purpose of self -defense (e.g. ownership of a firearm to protect one’s person or property is not a valid reason to obtain a license in Australia). Gun companies have tapped in to the unique cultural and regulatory environment by continually fracturing firearms products into new niches, for instance, a contemporary US consumer may be convinced they need a pistol. So they go and purchase a regular, full sized handgun. After acquiring this, they will be told, that they require a compact model for concealment, and perhaps a subcompact model also, for “open carry” or for their vehicle. They can then be sold prestige brands or collectors items. These sales all occur within the broader category of pistol products, and similar diversification has occurred in other categories in order to create the perception of increased utility, where in reality with each new purchase, utility has dropped significantly. A single hunting firearm and a single pistol offer a high degree of utility to the consumer, why then does the average American gun owner buy six more, or do the top 3% own over twenty-five?
Let’s hypothesise that marketers motivate these consumers by appealing primarily to the middle three tiers within Maslow’s hierarchy, as we know that the hierarchy is used as a framework to appeal to consumer motivation (Iacobucci, D. 2014). American gun owners are spiraling in a saturated, highly competitive market offering hedonic consumption, in the guise of utility, function and appeals to security. In what form then do these calls to action take, and how do they differ between tiers of this hierarchy?
Tier 2 – Appeals to Safety
Marketers appeal to the consumer’s sense of self preservation, particularly in times of perceived uncertainty, such as during a Democratic presidency or after a mass-shooting. The value propositions revolve around home, personal and familial safety. These products make up a substantial part of the market and are generally targeted at the everyday, inexpert consumer, to reflect this they also generally take low to intermediate price points.
In this case the industry is working in tandem with lobby groups such as the NRA, which represents the gun industry, but acts politically using member donations, and with politicians who receive NRA funding.
Here the first image is an NRA sponsored message, the second it from Republican nominee Ted Cruz’s (a recipient of NRA donations) website for the Texas region .
The combination of decades old marketing practices, political clout and organized industry lobbies successfully create the environment where sufficient threat is perceived by the consumer to engage in repeat purchases motivated by safety.
The reason why the combination of current events and this combination leads to a frenzy of gun purchases is that it creates an environment where the events manifest themselves within the consumer as internal motivators and the action of marketers and industry as external motivators.
Tier 3 – Appeal to Belonging
Another targeting strategy used by firearms marketers is to the consumer’s sense of belonging. Generally via patriotic or religious sentiment, notions of conservative or libertarian political values, pro-military sentiment or identity as a hunter or outdoorsman. Social groups built around these constructs are highly divisive in American culture, and as such the calls to action carry more weight than they would in most other markets. Products marketed using these techniques tend to have price points in the middle of the market.
Tier 4 – Appeal to Esteem
While targeting consumers using calls to action based around the aforementioned motivations can be attested to for many decades, more recent campaigns have moved into higher net worth and “prosumer” demographics, appealing to the consumer via a sense of prestige, self-worth and high social position or identity as a leader. An excellent case study would be in the Legion products marketed by Sig Sauer, who offer exclusive content and products to consumers who join a membership program that can be entered into upon purchasing a luxury product at a high price.
In this advertisement, note: “independence balanced with responsibility” and “your reward for scrutinising every last detail.” These are direct calls to esteem and self worth and more specifically to the high value “prosumer” demographic in the latter. Does this advertisement move you to desire the product? Now what if you were socialised as an American?
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Gabbot, M. (2004) Introduction to Marketing. Pearson Education Australia: Frenchs Forest, NSW
Iacobucci, D. (2014). Marketing Management. 4th ed. South-Western, Ch 2, Ch 14.
SCHIFFMAN, L. G., & KANUK, L. L. (2004). Consumer behavior. Upper Saddle River, NJ, Pearson Prentice Hall.
BostonGlobe.com. 2016. Gunmaker stock prices have surged amid rise in mass shootings – The Boston Globe. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.bostonglobe.com/metro/2016/06/13/gunmaker-stock-prices-have-surged-amid-rise-mass-shootings/a5QmKsIZTWKwWekedjW7pO/story.html. [Accessed 02 August 2016].
prosumer Meaning in the Cambridge English Dictionary. 2016. prosumer Meaning in the Cambridge English Dictionary. [ONLINE] Available at: http://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/prosumer. [Accessed 02 August 2016].
Washington Post. 2016. The average gun owner now owns 8 guns — double what it used to be – The Washington Post. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2015/10/21/the-average-gun-owner-now-owns-8-guns-double-what-it-used-to-be/. [Accessed 02 August 2016].
Zachary Crockett. 2016. What happens after a mass shooting? Americans buy more guns. – Vox. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.vox.com/2016/6/15/11936494/after-mass-shooting-americans-buy-more-guns. [Accessed 02 August 2016].