A core aspect of the American firearms industry is its historical and traditional character. Intrinsic to the industry is the fact that firearms are the only products specifically named in the United States Constitution. Our Founding Fathers singled out guns as a category that enjoys special protection.
For reasons both valid and imagined, this unique status has imbued the gun business with a certain mythology that continues to color every aspect of the industry. From a marketing perspective, the Second Amendment is a powerful tool to prompt customers into buying.
A variety of commemorative guns and “make-a-donation” programs are used as sales tools to good effect, both for organizations like the NRA that benefit from such programs and for the manufacturers who sell additional product based on these emotive promotions.
The iconic image of Charlton Heston holding a Kentucky flintlock rifle above his head and grimly declaring, “From my cold, dead hands!” is a perfect illustration of how the Second Amendment is perceived as a powerful symbol by consumers in the firearms market. You would never see a similar phenomenon in other industries, even those that also have a link to the Constitution. Can you imagine Edward R. Murrow defiantly clutching a microphone, even though the First Amendment is as precious to the press as the Second is to us?
The hidden message behind the use of the Second Amendment as a marketing tool is the same as that of Lance Armstrong’s yellow wristband or the AIDS relief "Red Product.” If you buy this product, you’re a good person (because you’re donating to a worthy cause).
This is powerful stuff. There is no such altruistic piggyback to marketing a vacuum cleaner or a lawn mower or a pair of shoes, although I'm sure some Madison Avenue types are feverishly trying to equate wearing Reeboks to being eco-sensitive.
The automotive industry is hip to this and is desperately trying to link the purchase of certain small, fuel-efficient cars to a consumer’s environmental conscious and a host of industries are trying to jump aboard the “green” train.
Marketers in all industriesare acutely aware that symbols are more powerful than objects. Notice how often an image of the Bill of Rights, the American flag or other emotive symbols are used to convey a sales message. This is "emotional marketing" and I guarantee you that Michael Dell would eagerly brandish a laptop and declare, “From my cold, dead hands!” if he thought it would lead to more computer sales.
Any industry would love to be able to so easily resonate with its consumers’ emotions to generate sales. Billions are devoted to advertising in just such attempts. The toothpaste industry feverishly tries to imply that use of their product will lead to a hot date while the beer industry suggests that if you consume their product you’ll have more friends and better parties.
The irony is that the firearms industry doesn’t need to concoct any such hidden messages because the product itself is imbued with an inherent emotional appeal thanks to its inclusion in the Second Amendment. The Bill of Rights is a vibrant document and, inadvertently, serves as the world’s best marketing message.