Smith & Wesson marketing tactics could backfire

Smith & Wesson is now selling 8-ounce martini glasses with swirled aqua and copper coloring that are, surprisingly, not intended for target practice. Smith & Wesson has recently unveiled its new line of home-market products ranging from blankets and pillows to faux-elephant suede skirts and silk shantung blouses. This sudden change in marketing indicates the growing hostility that America has started to develop toward handguns.

Slumping handgun sales have caused Smith & Wesson to diversify into completely new markets. The company has released a catalog called Crossings by Smith & Wesson. This catalog pushes home decorating items, furniture and clothing with a Western theme that Smith & Wesson claims has become camp in American society.

This attempt to diversify comes in the wake of a number of anti-handgun bills passed in recent years, as well as the proliferation of anti-handgun propaganda such as the Oscar-winning film Bowling for Columbine. American sentiment seems to be shifting against the pro-handgun lobbies such as the National Rifle Association.

In 2000, Smith & Wesson was forced to cave in to public and political pressures by accepting a proposal by the Clinton administration to install safety locks on all of its firearms as well as to initiate safety measures and make marketing changes. According to the Associated Press, Smith & Wesson suffered a sharp drop in sales after this agreement and was accused by long time customers of “selling out.” Many handgun supporters vowed to boycott Smith & Wesson over this agreement.

Gun makers are seeking wider public acceptance and a new image as well as a new market. Tom Diaz, the senior policy analyst of the Violence Policy Center told the Associated Press, “One of the things the gun industry has pushed for is to get away from the image as something sinister and portray the industry as a sport.” Smith & Wesson is taking a path in this direction by trying to change its image. The company claims that 87 percent of Americans recognize the 151-year-old Smith & Wesson name. Yet, as well as an attempt to soften its image, it is apparent that Smith & Wesson’s diversification is an attempt to boost profits and not just trade on its brand; only one ball cap and belt buckle display the Smith & Wesson logo.

In the firearms industry, Smith & Wesson is known predominantly as a handgun dealer at a time when many Americans are less and less comfortable with America’s embrace of firearms. The move by Smith & Wesson, a company steeped in the values of American gun culture, is significant. The company has acknowledged that it must change or face becoming obsolete.