Firearms industry puts on a friendly face for young liberals

Hip, local, urban branding firm develops hip, local, urban image for gunsmiths

April Fools! The stories in this week’s feature package contain satire, exaggeration and outright misinformation … or do they?

According to a Pew Research Center study from 2017, about 40 percent of Americans say they own a gun or live in a household with one. The same study also noted, “For most gun owners, owning a firearm is tied to their sense of personal freedom.”

“It stands to reason, therefore, that more guns in America equals more personal freedom,” said Chase Emdown, senior brand development strategist at Brandmyne.

During a fiscal year that’s had firearms makers struggling—Smith & Wesson saw profits sink by 65 percent, and 200-year-old industry stalwart Remington declared bankruptcy in February—the Reno-based firm has achieved what many though tto be impossible. In March, Emdown’s branding team reached a group that the NRA had written off as being “so deeply against personal liberties, they’re not even worth trying to market to”—young, urban liberals.

This week, Emdown gave the WWN&R’s Business Desk an exclusive interview to explain how his team did it.

The whole process started on Feb. 26, after Emdown read a blog post by Josh Clafin from the Tennessee-based marketing firm Garrison Everest, which specializes in branding firearms: “It’s 2018, and it’s harder than ever to get your message out to law-abiding customers,” Clafin wrote. He advised five strategies, including native advertising and marketing to women.

NRATV, the National Rifle Association’s television network, had already helped make guns and gun accessories more appealing to women, touting products such as chic, concealed-carry handbags. Emdown figured there wasn’t much use marketing to a recently saturated demographic, so his team would need to find one that remained untapped.

On Feb. 26, Emdown began his team’s Monday morning “think sesh” by doing what he always does. Dry-erase marker in hand, ready to scribble any and all ideas on a whiteboard, he put his hands on his hips like a cheerleader, bounced on the balls of his feet twice and prodded his team with a loud, cheerful “So, what do we dooooo?”

“We change the woooooorld!” replied most of the team in unison.

But Brittany Benarjee—a promising junior strategist who had provided the brain, the brawn and the humor that were the trinity of the “God said it’s fine now” campaign, which increased sales of caffeinated beverages in Mormon communities by 14,700 percent in 2017—did not share the group’s early-morning enthusiasm.

“We go for coffee,” mumbled Banarjee, not looking up from her phone.

“In your grandpa’s office, she would have been fired,” said Emdown, who is 36 and remembers, from his days as a teenage intern, a time when people still wore shirts with sleeves in offices. “But that’s not how things work anymore,” he said. “Brittany hungover in last night’s tank top and eye makeup is smarter than the rest of us put together on Adderall. So, when Brittany starts snarking, we take that seriously. Most of the time, it’s the start of a real solution.”

The team walked together to Unique Bespoke Roastery for some some six-dollar macchiatos.

“The barista was a great foam artist,” recalled Brandmyne intern Justin Sweet. “Each macchiato took about seven minutes to handcraft—and then another five minutes, so that she could draw a leaf or a heart or a hashtag with a lot of serifs in the foam.”

The barista, Jeweley Front, had been on a Tindr date with Sweet a week before. They’d gone for poke bowls, then to the acrobat dog show at the Carnival Midway at Circus Circus Hotel Casino.

“So, she put, like, an eight-minute drawing on his macchiato,” said Emdown. “It was a German shepherd puppy playing with a little stuffed mouse toy. It was meticulously detailed.”

The group assembled at one of Unique Bespoke’s unique, bespoke, charred-top tables, which are made from reclaimed apartment-fire beams that the Portland, Oregon, Fire Department sells on its Etsy shop and edged with copper dots made from reclaimed antique dental fillings.

As soon as the two-ounce coffees were assembled on the table, Banarjee looked at the puppy drawing on Sweet’s coffee, looked at the swirly-serif hashtag on Emdown’s coffee, rolled her eyes, and huffed audibly.

“We all know that huff,” said Emdown. “It means she had the brand strategy figured out.”

Benarjee spelled it out for her colleagues: “We put hand-knitted doggie heads and kitty heads on the end of the gun barrels. You know, so when a bullet comes out, it looks like they’re barfing up a cute little metal hairball. We contract with a sustainable, ethical fair trade knitter from the Andes to make little cat outfits and dog outfits for the guns.”

“It’s almost perfect,” Emdown said to the team. “We just have to figure out how to disassociate guns with the idea of violence, then we’ve got this.”