Marketing Masculinity: How Guns Are Marketed, Glamorized, and Normalized

Marketing Muckraking

26-05-2022 • 49 mins

Just like tobacco companies targeted kids to create a market of “replacement smokers,” so do gun manufacturers.

Boys as young as 6 are targeted with ads conflating guns with masculinity, so that by the time they turn 18, the seed has been planted.

This helps answer the question, “Why would a young man turn 18 and go buy a gun?”

He has been sold guns since childhood.

The history of marketing guns as an emblem of masculinity goes back to the 1800s. Guns were positioned as protection for Southerners and their property against a slave uprising, which is why Anderson calls the Second Amendment "steeped in anti-Blackness."

But even after the Bill of Rights was ratified, most Americans didn't own guns.

Guns were expensive. They had to be custom made for each buyer.

The Industrial Revolution changed that.

Not only did Eli Whitney invent the cotton gin, he also developed technology that helped produce interchangeable rifle parts — a key element of mass producing guns.

Guns were standardized and mass produced for the Civil War, leaving surplus that needed selling.

Manufacturers needed marketing to offload their guns — and justify producing more.

This is when catchy slogans like this one from Colt were born:

"God created man, Sam Colt made them equal,” a phrase that would become a favorite of gun lovers throughout history and today.

Gunmakers aimed their advertising at white men and their fears of life after slavery was abolished.

These same men brandished guns to intimidate newly freed slaves, telling them not to vote —  and often killing them if they did.

But gun manufacturers didn't care: there was no regulation around gun marketing or sales, so they continued on, convincing general stores to stock guns next to oats and patent medicines, telling boys and their parents that owning a rifle would help them cultivate "sturdy manliness."

In the early 20th century, the Winchester Repeating Arms Co. launched the “boy plan” to reach 1 million boys between ages 10 and 16. “Every real boy wants a Winchester rifle” read the slogan.

This marketing campaign told boys that “real men” owned a Winchester.

In the early 2000s, Remington created the “Man Card” campaign to spotlight the AR-15, which is the rifle used in the Sandy Hook massacre.

The campaign told young men that if they didn’t “man up” (and buy a rifle) their “man card” would be revoked.

In February 2022, the parents of the Sandy Hook victims won a landmark $73 million dollar lawsuit against Remington for specifically targeting young men in their marketing.

Up until then, firearm manufacturers had blanket immunity from liability for the crimes committed with their products, regardless of how they marketed them.

That is changing.

If you’re asking yourself, “What do I do?” there is political change to be made BUT the consumer protection route is an important approach, as well.

We might not be able to get lawmakers to do what we want — but we can approach activism through the commercial angle.

Today’s firearms manufacturers use influencer marketing and “white label” ads through young people in the Creator Economy — on social media and on YouTube.

We can demand legal changes.

But we can also demand that gunmakers stop sponsoring kids with brand deals so they’ll promote their guns to young audiences.

Read the full show notes here.