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Brand Purpose Gun Violence Business Leadership

How the media & marketing industries can change the culture around American gun violence

By Brian Monahan, Global client president

February 8, 2023 | 7 min read

Media and marketing professionals always have an immediate impact the second they decide to grab something and move it forward. Here are three ways everyone can make a difference, writes Dentsu’s Brian Monahan.

People

I used to think my family was struck by lightning when my mom was in the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary. Now I feel some relief that we got our exposure to gun violence out of the way. Doing some crude back-of-the-envelope math with data from GVPedia shows the average American has a one-in-five chance that their spouse, child or grandchild will be shot. Gun violence is every American’s problem. It makes every other problem we have worse.

With more guns in America now than citizens, Nicholas Kristof at The New York Times made a compelling argument that we need to adapt to living with guns like we have other dangerous things like alcohol, automobiles and cigarettes.

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Unfreezing our approach to reducing American gun violence with even modest steps will require significant cultural change. To change culture, we must first find a common language to have a dialogue that all sides will hear.

The Gun Safety Alliance (GSA) recently published a new white paper on effective gun messaging. The paper draws from quantitative and qualitative consumer research. The work led by Devora Rogers and Brad Alperin revealed two frames of opinion on gun violence that do not overlap. One frame is the empathy frame – “This is horrible; we need to do something about it.” The other is the freedom frame – “I need the freedom to fend for myself and my loved ones.” Trying to have a conversation around gun violence in either of these frames is often ineffective because the other side tunes out and fails to hear the intended message.

The GSA white paper found common ground when framing conversations about gun violence around responsibility: “The problem is irresponsible people using guns irresponsibly.” Framing the problem and associated remedies in this way resonates with both gun owners and non-gun owners. The research further showed that most consumers support brands that advocate for responsible gun usage.

The causes of American gun violence are complex and intersect with many other challenging issues. Solving a challenge of this magnitude requires contributions from every professional culture shaper. The gun safety movement draws inspiration from past successful movements like marriage equality, drunk driving and smoking cessation.

Getting involved in the gun safety movement is inconvenient. No one is going to hold your hand. And it is a big depressing bummer. On the bright side, the rewards of making a difference on this critical issue offset the negatives.

Media and marketing professionals always have an immediate impact the second they decide to grab something and move it forward. From my unwanted 10 years in the gun safety movement, I recommend that anyone in our industry who cares about gun safety wade in and own something. Every contribution counts no matter the size and scope. The hardest step is simply moving from caring to doing.

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Following are some steps that anyone can take to get involved:

1. Pick a gun violence prevention (GVP) group to support with your time or money. There are heroic nationwide organizations like Brady, Giffords, and Everytown for Gun Safety. Almost every state has a GVP group. And there are many metro area groups that include gun violence as a community issue they work to solve. Sadly, most of these organizations spawn from gun violence victims. Their dedicated staff provides a consistent, focused counterweight to the gun industry, which mints money 24/7. The Gun Safety Alliance funnels pro bono media and marketing support to these GVPs. Please contact us if you’d like to join a project.

2. Make a time commitment. Block an hour a week. Commit to a standing meeting. Most of our projects at the GSA are two-to-three-month sprints that require a couple of hours per week.

3. Incorporate lessons from the research into your everyday work. As noted in the white paper:

  • Influencers and content creators can amplify messaging around gun safety and gun violence by consistently using of the “responsibility frame” to help the message be received by a wider audience and to help it stick.

  • Brands can adopt the “responsibility frame” without the negative consequences they might fear, given that it appeals to gun owners and non-gun owners alike.

We have no choice as Americans but to solve our gun violence crisis. Getting smarter about how to talk about the issue using a responsibility frame, mobilizing resources, and working together will make this country safer.

Brian Monahan is a volunteer with the Gun Safety Alliance. By day, he works as a global client president at Dentsu. He grew up in Sandy Hook, Connecticut.

Brand Purpose Gun Violence Business Leadership

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