How many of us remember the cheesy PG-13 and R-rated gun advertisements from the ’80’s and ’90’s that mostly featured scantily-clad middle-aged women, poor trigger discipline and emotionless faces? Even though the shots were captured by what must have been the most disposable cameras available, sex sold more than a few cheap guns.
Searching back even further, vintage gun ads show a degree of sexuality in their photos, though a much more restrained version that matched the more conservative morals of the day. Innuendo, cleavage and a seductive wink were pushing the boundaries, rather than the norm.
Jumping forward in time, in came the new millennium and with it, the social media boom calling in a new generation of aspiring photographers and models looking to make it big on the internet. Lingerie-and-machine-gun-hottie type videos were big in the 2000’s. Likewise SHOT show “Gun Bunny” models had many tongues a-wagging, to the point where they seemed to detract from the very industry they were there to promote. While the digital camera revolution may have increased the ease with which someone could take a decent photo, the mainstream marketing campaigns featuring scantily clad women, seemed to have peaked and begun its inevitable ebb during this time.
Why the decline? If so many gun owners are red meat-eating, chest thumping sons-of-bitches, why shouldn’t there be an eternal supply of silicone-laden bleach-blondes lining up for one ad campaign after another? There are a number of reasons and here are what I consider the most pertinent.
Women are buying guns in greater number than ever.
While the ATF doesn’t break down NICS checks by demographics, there have been numerous polls and studies showing a hefty increase in female gun ownership. The National Sporting Goods Association featured a poll showing female participation in shooting sports up by 51.5% from 2001-2011. A 2014 PEW poll showed women’s opinions on guns doing “more good than harm” as having raised 11% from two years prior. A Crime Research Prevention center report showed a 270% increase in female concealed-carry permit holders from 2008-2015. While not scientific, a huge number of gun dealers across the country have anecdotally reported vastly increased numbers of female customers.
Do you want gun manufacturers to have healthy sales? (Yes, you do.) Then accept that to have the most robust sales possible, the half of the population that has been traditionally less likely to buy a gun needs to be welcomed in. For that to happen in the most complete way possible, the T&A advertising has severely needed to exit the mainstream.
Women and girls are more diversely represented than ever.
There are more women competing in shooting sports (and winning them) than ever before. 5-time Olympic medalist Kim Rhode, 7-time Womens USPSA champion Julie Golob and even teenage wunder-shooter Katie Francis provide a professional representation of females in the gun industry. Not only are women buying more guns and participating in competitions, women (and girls) are increasingly featured on hunting shows. Regardless of what one segment of the consumer base may enjoy for visual consumption, many have to ask themselves what kind of industry they want to expose their moms, daughters, sisters and wives to. Positive role models such as the pro-shooters mentioned above are much better universal brand ambassadors than the models who are lacking the most basic knowledge of firearms safety or operation. In an increasingly over-sexualized world, I want my kids growing up enjoying the pure thrill of an excellent shot, not getting improper anatomy lessons.
Distracting advertising implies a product cannot stand on its own merits.
Many consumers do like seeing some risque’ advertising. When I see it, I’m wondering what is wrong with the product that it should need mammaries to sell it rather than drawing the customers in by showing its quality. Distracting advertising is just a fancy version of the old shell game combined with a little bait-and-switch. Some marketers think we’re dumb enough to be tricked into buying a crappy product by a flash of skin. Do you want to prove them right?
Even the titillating versions of gun marketing have matured.
As sure as T&A advertising is fading from the gun marketing mainstream, it is just as surely not vanishing entirely. Social media has given the perfect forum for photographers to elevate the “Girls and Guns” combo to more than a cheap thrill. More than ever you’re seeing photographers such as Stickman and Weapon Outfitters posting photos of tactical-gals in more artistic settings. Post-apocalyptic and modern action themes are abound where awkwardly laying on the gun shop counter used to be the pinnacle of the practice. Even Recoil Magazine‘s last page female pictorial has moved away from skimpy outfits in its early issues to tactical wear on its models in more recent issues. To me, this is clearly showing an increasing awareness of the female presence in the market, while maintaining the essence of what their readers seem to want. It’s a compromise that looks designed to draw more people in without turning away from the framework that brought them to success.
Further blurring the lines are the women who many would assume are simply professional models, who are actually skilled in the pew-pew arts. The featured image at the top of the page is courtesy of Stickman at Stickgunner.com and showcases Brittaney Scott, a prime example of a woman who is both. I think a distinction needs to be made between decent-looking gals who have pictures snapped of them and the pros in the modeling industry who take the time to really learn the product. There are many of the latter who enjoy hunting and the shooing sports.
With this article, I’m not trying to make a persuasive argument as much as analyzing the trends and truths. Sales lead to profits, which leads to increased market innovation through R&D. A broader customer base benefits the existing manufacturers, potential businesses (which invariably open to meet demand) and it benefits us all as armed, polite citizens. Let’s welcome the ladies in.
Just don’t tell them they have to buy in pink.