I have to hand it to the NRA and Wayne LaPierre. A group that represents a tiny fraction of the U.S. citizenry has managed to paralyze the government of the world’s largest democracy. How have they done it? By systematically employing a series of what I like to call “brilliant marketing moves,” or BMs for short (yes, I am aware of the other historical meaning of BM). Let’s review some of the proven marketing and PR techniques used during the NRA’s recent BMs.
1. Create the data to support your claim – no matter how absurd – by asking the right question. The NRA doesn’t poll people about whether they think Americans should be allowed to carry an assault weapon. The majority of Americans believe there should be tougher gun control legislation. Instead, the NRA asks whether Americans believe that we should “protect and preserve the Constitution.” Since the majority of Americans believe in the sanctity of the Constitution, the NRA has used the Transitive Property of Patriotism to declare that banning assault weapons would be a violation of our rights and against the will of the people. Makes perfect sense to me.
2. When faced with the prospect of answering a question you don’t want to address, change the topic. Anyone who has done a press interview knows this fundamental rule. When the reporter asks you the pointed question that will lead to an answer that will reflect badly on you or your company, move the spotlight. The NRA uses this tactic very broadly and deftly. In the midst of a discussion about why there should not be universal background checks and limits on the size of gun magazines, the debate changed to whether to put armed guards in schools. This is brilliant. Now all the energy is focused on whether we should put more guns on the street, versus trying to reduce the number of weapons available. We likely won’t end up with armed teachers, but suddenly the discussion is not about assault weapons anymore.
3. Tap into deep-rooted consumer passions to maximize message effectiveness. Emotions were designed by nature to override logic. Have you ever seen a squirrel pause to construct a pro/con analysis when threatened? So as a marketer, if you can connect with a consumer belief or passion, you are significantly advantaged in your attempt to persuade, even if your proposition doesn’t make sense. The NRA relies heavily on this tenet. The first benefit stated by the NRA in its membership pitch is “24/7 defense of your second amendment freedoms.” It broadcasts on the first page that “Complacency is Freedom’s enemy” and refers to its members as “Patriots.” Somehow, the NRA has educated, rational citizens believing that an assault weapon ban equates to a violation of their rights. Let’s be clear, the second amendment states we have a “right to keep and bear arms.” It does not mention anything about the type of arms we are allowed to “bear.” When you live in a society, there has to be compromise. If you believe you need a handgun or rifle in self-defense, so be it. But I know very few people who believe they need to keep a machine gun under their pillow as a way of exercising their second amendment rights. While we are at it, maybe we should allow citizens to keep nuclear arms in their closets. Small ones. Shouldn’t my right to be armed outweigh my neighbor’s fear that I might decimate the neighborhood some day when I have had too much to drink and forget my weapon is armed?
4. Create a sense of bigness. The NRA claims to “represent” the 70 million gun owners in the U.S. Taken at face value, this would be a sizable portion of our adult population, and provide some legitimacy to its sway over public opinion. The truth is, the NRA has about four million members, with only a percentage deemed active. Yet, the NRA’s consistent presence in the media, mixed with claims of rapidly growing membership and posture as “representing the voice” of many, gives the organization a sense of bigness that increases its ability to influence. It is truly a little organization with a big voice.
5. Take a leadership stance. Regardless of how absurd or untrue your claim may be, if you say it with authority and don’t blink, you sound like you know what you are talking about. People naturally follow leaders. Leaders usually get the benefit of the doubt. That is why you will see Wayne LaPierre suggest ideas like arming our teachers as a way of making schools safer. He doesn’t even crack a smile. You actually believe he thinks this is a good idea. I wouldn’t want to play poker against him.
It’s Time to Arm, Aim, and Fire
As marketers, I don’t think we should sit back and watch the NRA employ our trusted techniques to manipulate Congress to support the minority stance. Frankly, I am a big believer in protecting our freedoms. But let’s face it, I value the freedom of sending my child to school worry-free a lot more than I value my “freedom” to carry an assault weapon. I prefer the freedom of not worrying about gunmen in the movie theaters far more than my “freedom” to fire 20 rounds without having to reload. We need some balance here.
So here’s an idea. Maybe we can use our collective experience as marketers to even the playing field and get Americans thinking about this the right way. Many of us are in a position to influence and stimulate critical thinking about the issues. If everyone reading this column used their proven techniques to influence others within their sphere, perhaps we can take control of the conversation. Let’s pick a date, say April 29, and dedicate our voices – blogs, Twitter, Facebook, etc. – to creating a more balanced approach to this one-sided debate. Let’s show the NRA and Wayne LaPierre that they can’t beat us at our own game.
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