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Dick’s Sporting Goods announced it was ending sales of assault-style rifles in its stores and websites and they would no longer sell high-capacity magazines or sell guns to anyone under the age of 21, regardless of local laws.

Dick’s is deliberately positioning the brand in, what the company called “common sense gun reform.” That means raise the minimum age for gun purchases, ban bump stocks and assault weapons and conduct better and broader universal background checks.

According to the 2018 Brand Keys Customer Loyalty and Engagement Index, one of the critical Sporting Goods emotional category values is “family friendly.” So Dick’s figures to benefit mightily from being seen as more family friendly for two reasons.

First, the majority of sports retail sales have to do with, well, family sports. Things like soccer balls and cleats. Athletic shoes, footballs, basketballs, baseball bats, tennis rackets, golf clubs and ping pong paddles. Second, since real gun-involved consumers probably aren’t buying guns from national sporting goods retailers, Dicks is seen as reacting positively to recent tragic events in Florida.

On the more rational side of things, Dick’s discovered it had legally sold a gun to Nikolas Cruz, the accused Parkland shooter, though not a gun used in the Florida school shootings, and decided public safety was more important than gun-sale profits. And, really, really bad PR. So the brand supports the 2nd Amendment but continues to sell sport and hunting firearms.

The debate has moved beyond sporting goods retailers. Brands like Delta and United Airlines, Best Western and MetLife, along with dozens of others, have decided to end benefits and promotions offered to NRA members.

The NRA has slammed companies that have been cutting ties with the group, calling it a “shameful” move. “The law-abiding members of the NRA had nothing at all to do with the failure of that school’s security preparedness, the failure of America’s mental health system, the failure of the National Instant Check System or the cruel failures of both federal and local law enforcement.”

But promotional associations are a co-branding exercise, which reinforces values of one or the other of the partner brands. And whether the NRA position has some validity, what brand wants to be associated with the deaths of children? Generally speaking, brands should be concentrating on category values that engage consumers – not disengage them. Political polarization and more fervent social movements like #grabyourwallet and #MeToo have coalesced to change the face of brand engagement and consumer loyalty.

That being the case, now the question for all brands is, “How well can you position yourself so that you’re being viewed as honest and supportive of what is clearly a national crisis and not appear to walk away from the Second Amendment?”

Brands that don’t have the right answer to that question will pay for it dearly.


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