I’m fired up and hopefully on target today with my thoughts about gun violence. A growing number of companies are rethinking their connection to the firearms industry after what seems to be an endless fusillade of stories of shootings at schools and elsewhere. The target most often seems to be the National Rifle Association, the interest group for gun enthusiasts.
Facebook is the latest to score a bull’s-eye in regard to a corporate stance toward weaponry. It just started to limit ads for weapons accessories (rifle scopes, holsters, and that sort of thing) to its audience over age 18 (about 30% of its audience).
The Facebook algorithm enables advertisers to target their audience in any number of ways. Howard Davidson clients ask me about members of certain groups, readers of certain publications or websites, demographic breakdowns (sex, age, geography) – and Facebook can do that.
Where Facebook may have difficulty is where other companies are going to encounter problems – politicizing their revenue stream. Well-known companies like Delta, United Airlines, Symantec, MetLife, Hertz, and First National Bank of Omaha have ended their (primarily affiliate) relationships with the NRA. NRA members are angry and threatening boycotts, and there are quite a number of them – 4.5 million. And they can hit what they aim at.
Often, a client comes to me and asks, “Howard, can I benefit from taking a political stance in my marketing, or will it hurt me?” The answer is – yes. Both. Taking a political stance is no different than any other target marketing. Your product line also can mean it makes sense to ignore particular groups. A pharmaceutical company marketing contraceptives can easily afford to speak out in favor of birth control and take pro-choice positions. A women’s clothing manufacturer can easily speak in favor of women’s empowerment. What a guy like Howard Davidson thinks of their product isn’t important. (And, really, I don’t like very good in a chemise.)
Cause marketing is a tool for marketers aiming at a broad audience. That was why Marriott and the March of Dimes teamed up in the seventies, why so many companies team with the Olympics, and why Susan G. Komen for the Cure clicks – those audiences aren’t primarily political. But choosing to affiliate – or loudly not affiliate – with a cause also reduces your audience. Dick’s Sporting Goods no longer sells assault-style rifles. It will lose customers who shopped there not just for rifles, but other items. Bake shops that won’t bake cakes for gay weddings may gain some customers, but will also lose customers.
As always, know your audience. That’s what the guy at Howard Davidson Marketing would tell you. Wait – that’s me. Well, I’m on target.