Wants, Needs, and Pink Assault Rifles

pink AR 15One of the most basic lessons in economic education is the differentiation between Wants and Needs.  It usually shows up somewhere in the K-3 part of the curriculum.   The most basic expression comes as: “Needs are something you must have for survival.  For example, food and water.  Without food, you would not be able to live.  Wants are something that you would like to have, but it is not necessary, and you could do without it. ”   We have to be careful with this one in a consumer based economy because honestly there are lots of things we don’t need…as in most of the stuff being marketed to us.

However, for all the palaver expended on marketing, the fundamental concepts are simple: (1) Target the “right” market, identifying potential customers; (2) Provide “bait,” which can range from something like offering a Two For One sale or as complex as the psychologically based, focus group tested, campaign to sell luxury cars; (3) Utilizing appropriate media to get the message out.  For all the variations, the message is always the same — I’m selling something and I want you to buy it.

So, what can we learn about gun owners — or potential customers for more guns — from the statistics at hand?

If I were selling guns, I’d notice that 42% of Americans own at least one firearm, and of that 42% about 48% are male, and 57% of those males are Republicans.  Were I looking to expand my sales, I’d pay attention to the fact that only approximately 37% of women are firearm owners.

I’d notice that 55% of white Republicans are gun owners, and in the midwest and south Republicans comprise 62% and 56% respectively of firearm owners.  In terms of population density, it’s relevant to observe that 60% of rural Americans own guns, 42% of suburbanites are owners, and urban gun owners make up 30% of the total.   Age is often a marketing guide, so we’d want to note that individuals aged 18-29 have a 34% gun ownership rate, those aged 30-44 have a 42% rate, those people aged 45-65 have a 45% rate, and those over 65 have a 44% rate of gun ownership.   If we’re looking at trends by political affiliation the chart would look like the following:

gun trends party

From a marketing perspective, there is more of a potential market among women, independents, and Democrats — but there are also those declivitous slopes in their purchasing patterns.  This lends credence to the conclusion that “The household gun ownership rate has fallen from an average of 50 percent in the 1970s to 49 percent in the 1980s, 43 percent in the 1990s and 35 percent in the 2000s, according to the survey data, analyzed by The New York Times.” [NYT]  In turn, we come to another conclusion — there are more guns in fewer households.

Repeating an oft cited economic rule of life — If your business has an increasing share in a declining market You Are In Trouble.

One factor in the declining overall market is urbanization — those who might have owned firearms for hunting, predatory problems, and personal safety in rural areas find less compelling reasons for gun ownership in urban areas.   Hunting sports are trending downward as well, “only a quarter of men in 2012 said they hunted, compared with about 40 percent when the question was asked in 1977.” [NYT]  The aging of America may have some relationship to this as well; hunting is hard physical labor, and those over 70 may not find the activity as enjoyable as it was on 35 year old legs.

Thus, gun manufacturers are faced with some serious marketing issues.  Ownership trends in statistical terms, (not in anecdotal references to people who sign up for safety classes, or who make purchases of new models), are down.  Urbanization is increasing.  Women, less likely to buy a weapon, are 50.8% of the population.  Hispanic Americans, also less likely gun owners, are 16.7% of the population and increasing.  [Census]  How can gun manufacturers profit, if they can’t buck the trends in which (1) a gun is less likely to be considered a “need” and more likely in expanding  urban/suburban settings as a “want?”  Or, if the population trends are such that those elements (women, Hispanic Americans) who are less likely to own guns are increasing in the overall count?  In marketing, not shooting sport terms, — where are the targets?

Here’s one marketing ploy:

“A pink AR-15 will rock their world.  I don’t care if they are welcomed on unwelcome visitor, everyone will respect your choice in weaponry.  House guests love the look of your pink pink AR-15, and the bad guys will either bleed or run like hell.  Wolverine Tactical Firearms utilize a Duracoat finish for their pink AR-15, and the ceramic coating is both durable and attractive.  Yes we do purple as well.” [BTD.com]

The seller goes on to assure the potential buyer than a rifleman doesn’t have to explain why he or she would own a pink or purple AR-15 — the 2nd Amendment covers all that….  This assumes that one’s house guests are also shooting enthusiasts who won’t ask WHY you have a pink assault rifle.  So, how many middle-western or southern white males aged 34-65 are going to drive to the gun shop for a pink AR-15?  Or how many of their wives are likely to think this would be the sweetest Valentine’s Day present ever?  The marketing answer to these questions may very well be Not Enough to make these products (1) answer a felt “want” in an expanding market, (2) create enough demand to justify the expenditure of complex marketing research and subsequent campaigns, and (3) get a return on advertising investments anywhere near the tipping point.

If we’re looking for a reason why the National Rifle (Manufacturers) Association is putting up a frontal assault of its own against any and all gun safety and violence abatement legislation — we might well consider the marketing problems they are facing in this country.  Certainly, in light of the pink AR-15, they are.

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