Weaponising Your Wallet

Blair Cowan

As the gun control debate wears on in the US, social media and the involvement of student survivors is turning the tide, one success at a time. Here in the UK, it can be difficult to parse what’s happening in the American gun control debate, as well as what it means for the future of the country.

What’s different this time?

The survivors. We live in an age where teenagers are digital natives who have grown up with the internet, social media and ubiquitous mobile phones. They understand the power of these tools as well as any adult does, and with the recent shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, they’ve made their voices heard in ways that no other survivors of mass shootings in the US have done. More than making their demands known, they’ve made it easy for others to get involved, too.

Beyond the March For Our Lives which took place in hundreds of locations and attracted close to a million marchers across the world on 24 March, the survivors have organised school walkouts, town halls and more to bring the gun control debate to the foreground. Through Twitter, Facebook and even Instagram, the students have publicised lists of companies who do business with the National Rifle Association, provided contact information and encouraged their followers to contact companies who continue to support the NRA to voice their disapproval. Over the past month, this has resulted in nearly two dozen major companies cancelling NRA discounts, and several others ending the sale of high-powered guns in their stores. But why are brands paying attention to teenagers who don’t hold the power of the purse? By taking the conversation straight to the brands whose bottom lines are most likely to be affected, the students of Parkland, many of whom are not yet old enough to vote, have started a conversation around guns and their regulation that most American politicians have managed to avoid over the last decade. Far from the slacktivism that young people are often accused of engaging in, this has forced brands to take a stance on one of the most divisive questions plaguing America.

What does this mean for brands?

It’s time to take a close look at your brand’s ethos. As social media (for better or worse) pervades more and more aspects of our daily lives, consumers want to know what goes on behind the scenes at the companies they choose to support. It’s no longer enough to hide behind a corporate statement; consumers want to see action- and they’re not afraid to voice their complaints if they don’t see it. Consumers want to see their own values reflected in the brands they support, and when they see brands engaged in partnerships they disagree with, they no longer hesitate to take their business elsewhere. Think you’re immune from the bad press blanketing brands that support the NRA because your business is based here in the UK? Think again: Lloyds of London insures NRA gun shows, and plenty of other non-American businesses hold stocks that can be tracked back to the gun industry. As the movement continues to gain traction, expect brands far and wide to be drawn into the fray as pundits, activists and consumers find financial connections that support the gun industry across a variety of brands.

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Where do you go from here?

If there’s one thing that the noise surrounding NRA discounts has made clear, it’s that consumers are willing to do the investigating necessary to find out more about the brands they buy. And in an era of increased financial transparency, consumers want to support companies that take a stand for what they believe in- even if it means a hit to their bottom line. As the CEO of Delta Airlines said after revoking their NRA discount, ‘our decision was not made for economic gain and our values are not for sale.’ Taking a stance on the issue may have been a new step for an established company (who potentially lost $50M USD in tax breaks as a result), but Delta’s stock price has climbed ever since the announcement, proving that consumers want to support brands they trust. Can’t think of anything interesting your brand does in the way of giving back? Now is the time to start.

Struggling to define your brand’s ethos? In a marketing landscape this cluttered, it can be difficult to see where your brand fits in- and what your voice should be. We can help you tackle these questions and more: our Elastic approach works to help you find your niche with a creative, cohesive brand voice. Contact us today to see what we can do for your brand.

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