When President Barack Obama was re-elected, gun sales skyrocketed. Then, due to concerns about gun bans or restrictions they continued to climb. School shootings and repeated tragedies kept guns in the spotlight, continuing a nonstop conversation about gun rights and personal safety.
Now, sales of many styles of firearm are dropping, and that has investors and enthusiasts taking a very close look at the industry. Regardless of where one stands politically, the PR landscape is changing for the gun industry, and gun manufacturers and retailers need to understand the role public relations plays in this shift.
What shift? Well, sporting rifle (what some call, assault rifles) sales are down, drastically. However, handgun sales are steady, and in some markets, rising. So much so that retailers are literally running out of certain models of polymer semi-automatic handguns.
Why is this happening? A lot of it has to do with the conversation that is happening in the meta context. Early on, semi-automatic rifles such as the AR-15 became symbols of overall gun rights. The conversation became less about personal protection, and more about a personal philosophical standpoint. Many people went out and bought guns because they could, and feared they soon would no longer be able to.
In many ways, this underscores both the power of symbolism in public relations, and the basic market principle of implied scarcity. If a particular product or service is made to represent freedom and personal rights to a certain market demographic, and then that market is told they may lose access to that product, they will go buy it in droves.
And that’s exactly what happened. For nearly two years you could not go a week without hearing about gun rights and AR-15s from media outlets and on social media. Now, even when there is another school shooting, those weapons are hardly even mentioned.
Convinced nothing drastic will be done about the AR-15, the market has tired of that debate and the opinion-makers are turning it back into a discussion about personal protection and individual safety. Consequently, handgun sales are through the roof.
There are many lessons which brands across all ends of the political spectrum can learn. What symbols and stories can you tell that will engage your market and move them to action?
Ronn Torossian is one of America’s foremost Public Relations executives as founder/CEO of 5WPR, a leading independent PR Agency. The firm was honored as PR Firm of the Year by The American Business Awards, and has been named to the Inc. 500 List. Torossian is author of the best-selling "For Immediate Release: Shape Minds, Build Brands, and Deliver Results with Game-Changing Public Relations." For more of Ronn Torossian's reports, Go Here Now.
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