By Alison DaSilva, Executive Vice President, Cone Communications
Just over a month ago, the students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School were thrust into a national debate and catalyzed national media events and walk outs in schools across the country to rally for gun control and school safety measures. This weekend, their efforts will culminate in “March for Our Lives” on Saturday, March 24. The demonstration will bring together students, teachers, parents and allies who are demanding action on gun control. As the discussion continues, companies are increasingly more comfortable standing up for and speaking out on hot button issues that have dominated the news over the last year.
Americans are looking to businesses to take the lead and address issues outside their transactional footprint – and they are willing to buy and boycott based on those corporate values. Now, in the wake of the tragic Parkland school shooting, gun control is taking center stage. The culmination of student activism and the hyper-awareness of social justice issues spurred by 2017 has catalyzed a new movement, pressuring companies to cut ties with the NRA and for consumers to boycott those companies who refuse to take a stand. The call for action is impossible to ignore and brands are responding with a range of actions:
- Discontinuing NRA Member Discounts: Dozens of brands including Delta, United, MetLife, First National Bank of Omaha, Symantec, Avis Budget Group, Hertz and Enterprise Holdings took to social media to announce they will be discontinuing their discounts for NRA members. Many cited “customer feedback” as the main cause for distancing themselves from the organization.
- Changing Gun Purchasing Policies: Walmart (the largest seller of guns in the country), Dick’s Sporting Goods, L.L.Bean* and Kroger announced they will no longer sell guns and high-capacity magazines to anyone under the age of 21. In addition to the policy changes, Dick’s said it will no longer sell assault-style rifles in its stores. Walmart had made that decision back in 2015, but has extended the ban to items resembling assault-style rifles, including toys guns and air rifles.
- Leveraging Purchasing Power and Dollars to Influence Others: Mountain Equipment Co-op and REI announced that it would suspend future orders from Vista Outdoor, the parent company of CamelBak and Giro, as well as Savage Arms, a manufacturer of AR-15-style semi-automatic rifles. While the outdoor retailer does not sell guns, the company hopes to sway its vendors to “work towards common sense solutions” to prevent more tragedies. BlackRock, the world’s largest asset managers, stopped short of saying it would divest its funds of gun companies, but said it will speak with weapons manufacturers and distributors “to understand their response” to the Florida shooting and is putting pressure on companies such as Sturm Ruger & Company Inc. and American Outdoor Brands Corp.
- Allying with March For Our Lives: Gucci was one of the first brands to financially support March for Our Lives, donating $500,000. Bumble has also donated to the march and announced it will no longer allow images of guns on its user profiles. Whitney Wolfe Herd, CEO of Bumble, told the New York Times, “This is not super black and white. It’s a very tricky battle we’ve chosen to take on, but I’d rather pursue this than just ignore it.” In addition to a $500,000 donation, a group of Viacom networks will be airing special segments on gun violence prior to March 24, and will also offer live coverage of the event. To show support, Lyft is leveraging its ridesharing assets to provide free rides to the rallies across the country.
While nearly two-thirds of Americans expect companies to stand up for gun control, organizations must to be thoughtful about if and how to respond. Companies need permission to engage in an authentic way and must consider the impact of their actions on the business and all relevant stakeholders. By reflecting on their heritage, business policies, employees, consumers and other stakeholders, companies can diagnose which actions align best with the brand’s business practices and values – inspiring the most thoughtful and authentic responses to hot button issues. And it’s important to remember, not every company can or should go head-to-head with the NRA, but there is a spectrum of ways to engage to make a difference in a way that is authentic and meaningful.
This new group of passionate, empowered, well-articulated students has already made strides in rallying allies around stricter gun laws. As the discussion continues with “March for Our Lives” all eyes are on this powerful group to see if they can further influence companies and politicians to take a stand on the future of gun control.
* Cone client
Image credit: March For Our Lives Facebook page