The most notorious ad agency in America today is also the most effective content marketer in the land.
This is not something to be happy about (unless you favor more noise and distortion, over clarity and honesty).
Here’s a passage from Ackerman McQueen’s homepage:
WE HAVE FOUND OURSELVES AT ODDS WITH MANY IN OUR INDUSTRY.
Those who crave mass impressions, viral videos or short-term results have never understood the lasting value of this type of media investment. Those who believe in this concept see it as the most efficient and unique means by which to build influence over time.
As we waited for the media industry to catch up, we honed our craft. We built media companies on behalf of theme parks, indigenous cultures, personal legacies, the Second Amendment to the Constitution and more. Each of these endeavors didn’t grow their influence through full-page spreads, social media posts or TV spots alone. They recognized that there was white space in a narrative that they could control with years-long dedication to owned storytelling.
For the record, content marketing is well over 100 years old with many notable programs that made an impact on culture, like the King Biscuit Flour Hour and Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom. Ackerman McQueen didn’t invent a new form of advertising. The agency took an old format and renewed it for the always-on digital age.
Also, did you notice how the agency, which is also highly skilled in the dark arts of PR, did not say they support “gun manufacturers” above? They said, “Second Amendment to the Constitution” instead. There is a difference, but it’s not one the agency or the NRA wants anyone to explore.
The Freedom Frame
Framing is everything here and Ackerman McQueen knows all about framing. By using God-given “freedoms” as the driving impulse to sell more guns, the agency has created more than a community of interest. Gun advocates are a nation unto themselves.
Did you watch the video above? It’s proof that parallel universes exist.
For this to occur, it takes more than ads or “news” segments. The lesson of CNN is total saturation, and it’s a lesson that Ackerman McQueen successfully adopted. According to Quartz:
Since 1999, years ahead the creation of YouTube, Ackerman McQueen adopted a strategy of opening dedicated media channels for its clients, first for its Williams Energy account (a natural gas company), and then for the NRA in 2004. The channel, and the ones that followed it, turning NRA News into NRA TV—a broader company comprising of four channels, including a women-focused one—consistently repeated the NRA’s argument that guns represented a fundamental U.S. freedom.
When you repeat a lie enough times it begins to erode and distort the truth.
It’s Time for Counter Arguments
The natural question for anyone on the other side of the gun debate is how to combat this kind of 24/7 information stream from a well-funded, tactical communications firm in the middle of a glorious run. The most obvious answer is to counter it with the exact same tactics.
This is how the agency positions guns:
Today, our leading voice for motivation comes from a shoe brand. Independence is owned by a computer company. Extreme adventure is presented by an energy drink. Freedom is the territory of a gun rights organization.
Freedom is a big word to toss around. I know a lot of parents who would love to be free to send their kids to a school where they won’t be murdered by a gun. I know even more people who want the freedom to assemble in public—at church, at a concert, a rally, or anywhere else—without getting shot down by a madman with an assault rifle.
An all out blitz from the ad community that promotes the truth about freedom and public safety would be a big help, right now. How about the best agencies in America work together to counter the NRA’s nonsense?
Following the repositioning and reframing of the freedom narrative, the next step is to create much better content and a more powerful distribution system for it. This will require a new level of cooperation between companies and innovative new media and marketing ideas.
The ad business needs something to revive its spirits and renew its energy and this could be the issue that does it. America’s best storytellers are more than capable of getting this story right. The will is there and the need is overwhelming. All that’s missing is coordination and money, and both can be acquired and applied to this national need.