The Marketing of Violence in America

No, this is not an article on gun control. It’s a look at how we spend way too much time and money marketing violence to our children and not nearly enough time or effort marketing consequences.

Are we creating these monsters that shoot up malls, movie theaters and, yes, even schools?

Yes, I’m sad to say. We are all responsible and a big part of it comes down to marketing. We sell violence—all sorts of violence—to kids everyday.

Drop your politics for a second and think about it. I’ll even start you off with some easy examples—NASCAR, NHL, and NFL. What images come to mind when I mention these sports?

Crashes. Fights, Hard, bone-rattling hits.

Bloody fighting between Bruins and Sabres hockey players

Contrast this with the NBA, and what’s the first image that comes to mind? Probably an awesome dunk or a sweet three-pointer with time running out. You don’t see basketball highlighting footage of hard fouls.

What are we doing to boys in our culture?

Bushmaster at with automatic rifle "Consider this your man card"

We make violence sexy. We equate gun size to manhood. Fathers across the country spend hours playing Call of Duty, Grand Theft Auto, Halo and other violent video games with their sons or with their sons nearby.

Borderlands video game scene, cartoon-like

This kind of constant exposure to violence desensitizes many kids to violence and obliterates the moral compass in some as well. Yes, some kids can play these games and turn out fine. Others clearly cannot. Do you know which category your child falls into? You won’t know for sure until he’s older. Are you willing to take that risk?

The average American child will witness 200,000 violent acts on television by age 18.

I would venture to say that number from Nemours KidsHealth keeps rising. Note these points Nemours makes and see why you should be concerned:

Kids may become desensitized to violence and more aggressive. TV violence sometimes begs for imitation because violence is often promoted as a fun and effective way to get what you want. Many violent acts are perpetrated by the “good guys,” whom kids have been taught to admire. Even though kids are taught by their parents that it’s not right to hit, television says it’s OK to bite, hit, or kick if you’re the good guy. This can lead to confusion when kids try to understand the difference between right and wrong. And the “bad guys” on TV aren’t always held responsible or punished for their actions.

Movie trailers are filled with explosions, gunfire and physical violence. Crime shows on television seem to compete to air the most heinous acts and goriest scenes. And these shows are on at all hours of the day. The news channels and programs love violence so much they lead with it and give you as many details as they can. Killers’ photos are plastered on the covers of national magazines and front pages of newspapers and websites.

Parents don’t have as much help as they used to shielding their kids from it. Violence is everywhere. But nowhere is the marketing of consequences.

War: Video Games and Reality

Let’s talk war for a second, as an example.  War-related video games are unbelievably popular. Call of Duty, Medal of Honor, Assassin’s Creed, Battlefield and more repeatedly dominate the best seller list. Everyone loves shooting things up, right?

What would happen if we marketed the consequences?

Imagine if we saw more footage of the real-life injuries the weapons shown in these games produce? See the soldiers bleeding in the battlefields, their brothers frantically trying to get them to safely and tend to the wounds at the same time. We don’t even see the flag-draped caskets being flown into Dover. That’s how averse we are to showing consequences.

Games like Call of Duty and other war-related games advertise on TV with loads of gunfire and explosives. Check out the (relatively tame) Call of Duty Black Ops 2 trailer below. It’s one long string of weapons, gunfire and explosions, with real people inserted and being blown up. They take a casual, humorous approach and then end with “There’s a soldier in all of us.”

Really? That’s not a true depiction of soldiers at all. Let’s look at real soldiers. How does the real military advertise?

The majority of military advertising, across all services, emphasizes honor, strength and service. These guys are charged with the most violent duties around, yet they know that not focusing on that violence is much more powerful. Why don’t the rest of us understand that?

Marketing Consequences

Consequences should be marketed along with and in place of the proliferation of violent images and news. At least in one case, we’re starting to see that.

The NFL and sportscasters who entertain us with replays of the hardest tackles have been talking more and more about concussions. It’s still not enough.

The NFL and NHL should advertise much more with highlights of excellent plays. We do love those just as much, but we’ve been trained to respond to the violence. We’ll enjoy what they give us, as long as what they give us is entertaining enough.

As human beings, we’re highly impressionable. Everything we see and hear, everything we take in—whether we realize it or not—affects who we are and how we act as human beings.

The gun lobby, starting with the NRA, should lead the way setting a better example and calling for common sense changes that bolster their reputation and make us all safer. Your kids are listening to you and the way you talk about guns. Most people who own guns are law-abiding citizens and will never use their gun on another person. Market that!

Video game manufacturers should boost marketing of their kid-friendly games—look at the success and excitement around Just Dance and before that Guitar Hero. And they should take a hard look at how they market the “war” games and get creative—and more responsible.

News programs and channels should focus less on sensationalism and market real news more, stop glorifying killers and focus on the victims. Look at People Magazine’s __ December 31st issue. They did a fantastic and moving tribute to the ones who died at Sandy Hook. Something we’re not used to seeing. They spent many more words and pages on the victims than the killer.

Sports channels and leagues should promote the talent, the moves and scores that make use jump up and cheer. Major League Baseball should follow the NBA’s example and eject or suspend any player who comes off the bench to join a fight.

Our Responsibilities

Parents need to pay more attention to what their kids are seeing every day on TV and online and provide that balance. And the television industry and computer world need to give parents more tools to set protective limits.

Maybe I should’ve mentioned this before, but I love football and enjoy the hard hits—the clean ones, anyway. I find the crashes in NASCAR strangely spectacular and you will often catch me watching ultimate fighting—a brutal, bloody sport.

I’m not saying outlaw these things. What I am saying is we all need to be much more responsible in how we sell them. Violence is too easy and has become too abundant. Stop appealing to the base levels of society and let’s appeal more to civility and humanity. Take time and be more creative in figuring out how to appeal to different audiences in better ways.

And remember, kids everywhere are watching. As adults, by default, we lead by example. Let’s set a good one that we’d be proud of having the next generation follow.



  1. Bill McGowan · April 23, 2014

    The image of Shawn Thornton beating the crap out of that dude is why Google Images sent me here, but the pic is too low-res for a good iPad Homescreen…anyone know who he’s fighting so I can find a pic with higher resolution?

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