Nobody put a gun to your head!

I have seen the spots from the National Rifle Association of America (NRA). 

And it’s difficult to express how I feel. The Ad industry has been accused of manipulation, of insidious acts of persuasion but these spots are quite frankly, horrid.

Let me tell you about just one.

A woman faces the screen and begins a tirade, which I have to repeat it in its entirety for you to get the full impact. 

She says: “They use their media to assassinate real news. They use their schools to teach children that their president is another Hitler. They use their movie stars and singers and comedy shows and award shows to repeat their narrative over and over again. And then they use their ex-president to endorse ‘the resistance’. All to make them march. Make them protest. Make them scream racism and sexism and xenophobia and homophobia.” 

“To smash windows, burn cars, shut down interstates and airports, bully and terrorize the law-abiding – until the only option left is for the police to do their jobs and stop the madness. And when that happens, they’ll use it as an excuse for their outrage. The only way we stop this, the only way we can save our country and our freedom, is to fight this violence of lies with the clenched fist of truth. I’m the National Rifle Association of America. And I’m freedom’s safest place.” 

As the woman delivers these words, ominous images of protests and street violence are sharply intercut with her simply framed talking head.

Let me break this down for you. 

The spot, by a mid-west agency, called Ackerman-McQueen, uses two of advertising’s most prodigious tools.  And uses them spectacularly well. 

They are:  Fear and Sex.

Now ads have used fear to create a need for a product for ages: fear of fatness, fear of bad skin, fear of bad breath, fear of being behind the times. The list is long.

And sex has always been used in ads to attach primal appeal to cars, beer, tyres, even burgers.

So, to begin, here’s how the NRA advert generates fear. 

Who are ‘they’?  ‘They’ are nameless; a hidden threat. Faceless, anonymous and alien. The deliberate use of the third person plural is very smart. ‘They’ are no one you know. And fear of the unknown is indisputable. (By ‘they’ the NRA mean, of course, anyone who promotes gun control and would see guns done away with; that is, any completely sane person!)

Words like assassinate, scream, smash, burn and terrorize pepper the whole script at nice, regular intervals.  These are words which, in this day and age, are all very, very scary. It’s all we hear, day and night, in the papers, on the TV; the world and the news is filled with people ready to do us harm. 

Talking of news. The protest images are all in black and white and hand held; newsreel-type footage of people doing extreme violence to people and property. The ambiguity is quite deliberate, it allows the viewer to imprint his or her own vision of who is out to get them. The reality of this footage is therefore immediate, highly credible and, in consequence, particularly terrifying, especially if you were scared to begin with.

And here’s how the NRA advert uses sex.

The woman presenter is a right wing journalist/broadcaster called Dana Loesch. She is actually rather attractive, full figured, buxom and somewhat provocative looking. 

Her delivery is compelling and severe; she spits out words, she curls her lips in a horrid sneer. Challenging the viewer to disagree with her. She seems to savour words like ‘xenophobia’ and ‘homophobia’, enjoying the alliteration. Do ‘they’ dare take her on? The sense of sexual domination is palpable.

Other images proliferate of Dana Loesch holding guns. The idea of an attractive woman holding a gun, in leather, short skirts and tight tops, heightens all and every feeling of a gun being a symbol of male potency.  In one spot she is dressed something like a biker chick. Altogether she must be every redneck’s wet dream MILF. 

Finally, as in all good formulaic commercials, the appealing presenter, who you now want to believe more than anything in the world, having scared the living daylights out of you, delivers the perfect solution; the thing that will dissipate all your fears and allow you to sleep well. Allow you to fight back against the threats against you and your family.  

This is how you can feel totally safe, by taking your fate into your own hands and…

Go buy a gun!

So are the NRA ads motivated by pure altruism? 

A deep concern for America’s safety? I don’t bloody-well think so. 

Consider this; the annual revenue of the American gun and ammunition manufacturing industry is $13.5 billion with a $1.5 billion profit margin. (IBIS World Research 2013 via NBC). 

It is sincerely difficult to doubt that money is the final goal. 

The Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting occurred on December 14, 2012, in Newtown, Connecticut, when 20-year-old Adam Lanza fatally shot 20 children between six and seven years old, as well as six adult staff members.  

He used a military grade Bushmaster XM15-E2S automatic assault rifle, a gun that can fire 45 rounds a minute. 

And is shockingly easy-to-buy at any American sports-goods store or even on-line. This particular weapon, believe it or not, belonged to Lanza’s mother! The NRA’s response to this unspeakable horror? 

They recommended that all teachers carry concealed weapons. 

To use the considerable and persuasive skills of advertising to strike fear into people about body odour and to have them buy your brand of deodorant is one thing. 

To use sex to sell hamburgers is another. 

No-one ever killed a child with an anti-dandruff shampoo or a meat-ball sandwich. But to use the art of advertising to put something into the homes of men, women and children whose only one real purpose is to kill people, is hateful.  

To use the power of a well-crafted advert to put an assault rifle into the hands of people like Adam Lanza, and keep them there is despicable.  

Beneath contempt.

I don’t suppose the clearly talented ad people who did these adverts feel any shame or fear.  

But I do. 

Paul Loosley is a regular columnist with MARKETING magazine and this article was published before the Las Vegas massacre took place!


MARKETING Magazine is not responsible for the content of external sites.

The Malaysian Marketing Conference & Festival 2024 at the Sime Darby Convention Centre is a TWO-day marketing event for all those in Marketing, Media, Advertising, PR, Digital, Data, and more….

The experience is on May 15 & 16, with Keynote Speakers, multiple tracks or Breakaway Sessions hosted by our booth partners who will show you the latest in the industry. 

Download Event PDF
Register Here

Subscribe to our Telegram channel for the latest updates in the marketing and advertising scene