Gun Shop Criticized for MLK Day Tie-In with Fire-Arm Accessories

In: Online Reputation Management - ORM|Social Media

15 Jan 2018
by Chris Silver Smith

Martin Luther King Jr Day gun advertisementThis Martin Luther King Jr. Day holiday, a gun store in Albuquerque, New Mexico, thought it would be a good idea to advertise a sale tied into the them of the holiday. The Los Ranchos Gun Shop is offering 10% off of accessories with the purchase of a gun today. It’s not unusual for retail stores to offer sales to people when they’re off for the holidays, but it is potentially quite risky for various types of memorials and observances to try to connect things too much. Businesses risk being perceived to be riding on the coattails of tragedies in some cases, and can be interpreted as being mercenary, exploitative, or actively hostile to the themes around the observance. This is one of those instances.

The gun shop owner is quoted as saying that he doesn’t consider it to be against the spirit of Martin Luther King, Jr., because MLK was an advocate for civil rights, and gun ownership is also a constitutional civil right. Unfortunately, the store owner comes across quite tone-deaf with this reasoning. Advertising and marketing campaigns are not particularly about one’s personal opinions, nor about trying to prove a political point — they’re supposed to be about promoting your business to potential customers. If you alienate a large segment of your customers, then your ad campaign has had the opposite effect of your business goals — you stand to lose potential or even existing customers if you make yourself too distasteful to them.

Gun Store MLK Day Ad For Discounts

The newspaper ad from the Los Ranchos Gun Shop in Albuquerque offers 10% off of accessories with the purchase of a gun. Many on social media found the ad to be in poor taste and reprehensible.

In writing about online reputation issues, we typically avoid specifically citing the names of individuals and companies that are suffering reputation damage because we do not like to add to the very sorts of problems that we try to clean up on behalf of clientele. We do call out specific names in some cases where there appears to be some criminal or egregious behavior or attitude since it is worthwhile to provide warnings to other individuals and businesses in the marketplace. (Also, we perceive that the owners of this gun shop may have defiantly done this with the intention of attracting controversy, perhaps inspired by the recent political climate, and they very crassly calculated that they might not lose much in sales and could gain even more sales from people who are either racist or who are also anti-politically correct.)

The store owner could be technically correct — Martin Luther King, Jr. was indeed devoted to individuals being able to exercise their civil rights. But, he really was not marching on behalf of gun ownership rights, as the gun store owners must surely know. They likely should not try to make statements defending themselves on that basis, because it comes across as trying to co-opt MLK into representing their cause. And, that’s at the very least.

I’ve now seen some defiant and argumentative statements on social media in defense of the gun store that point out that MLK himself was a licensed gun owner. Of course, it’s well known that he was generally a pacifist, and he promoted peaceful protesting as opposed to violent riots and armed rebellion. It’s disingenuous to ignore that he likely obtained a gun for self-defense due to assassination threats he received, and he was indeed murdered by gunshots later on. So, that’s what makes this type of promotion a very bad idea, and one that anyone could easily predict might result in sharp disapproval.

As many who are less-experienced with online reputation management typically have done, the Los Ranchos Gun Shop followed up on the negative response their ad produced by posting on social media — a bad idea to do when your emotions may be running high, and when you have little experience in understanding or dealing with public relations issues:

Los Ranchos Gun Shop Tweets back defiantly regarding the outrage and criticism around their Martin Luther King Jr. Day gun accessory discount ad.

Los Ranchos Gun Shop Tweets back defiantly regarding the outrage and criticism around their Martin Luther King Jr. Day gun accessory discount ad.

The Tweet is interesting for a few reasons. First, they have hardly any followers whatsoever, and they’ve tweeted less than 200 times — they simply haven’t done much on social media, and one could conjecture based on this that they have little idea on how to defend themselves from the storm of disapprobation that they’ve risked. Second, the owner is continuing to try to co-opt MLK’s life’s work into his own pet issues — perhaps seeking to retroactively develop a basis for marrying the MLK Day themes to his advertising campaign. Third, he then lectures “the Left” on how they should feel and act in response to his lack of sensitivity.

No, sir, sorry — it is not only “the Left” who are likely to find this approach to advertising in very bad taste.

With perhaps little experience in social media, the gun shop owners likely are unaware that even if they do indeed appeal to other gun rights devotees, conservatives and even racists — they still might likely have damaged their business by some significant amount. By insisting upon being a controversial lightening rod, they could have attracted many motivated people to post negative reviews about them, Ripoff Reports, blog posts, and more. Negative reviews online, valid or not, can affect a business’s conversion rate — that is, it affects how many people choose your business over others, and it can affect the clickthrough rates to your business information. Sometimes these impacts will eventually also damage your ability to rank in Google for your main keyword terms.

Would it have been possible for the gun shop to have had a discount promotion on MLK day without incurring social media ire?

I think they could have had a sale or discount offer today without risking angering a swath of people.

They could have left out the background image of Martin Luther King, Jr.. They could have just said “SALE on Monday, January 15”, or even “Holiday Sale” instead of mentioning MLK at all.

At the end of the day, what are you in business for? Making money is the goal of every business, and if you purposefully take a hit to your reputation, you can severely damage your ability to achieve your business goals. Doubling-down after you make a mistake often just digs you even deeper.

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