Troll (verb) — to intentionally do or say something annoying or offensive in order to upset someone, or to get attention or cause trouble (Cambridge Dictionary); to harass, criticize, or antagonize especially by provocatively disparaging or mocking public statements, postings, or acts (Merriam-Webster Dictionary).
There are a few unwritten rules of the internet — “don’t feed the trolls” is one of them. You can’t beat a troll by giving it attention.
This is a lesson that Protect Morgantown needs to learn.
For those who have missed all the hub-bub, Protect Morgantown is a community group formed to protest Big Daddy Gun’s store slated for The Deck downtown. The pushback stems from two primary complaints: The location and the company’s marketing.
While Big Daddy’s wouldn’t be the first gun shop in Morgantown, it would be less than a mile from both West Virginia University’s main campus and Morgantown High School. The recent slate of mass shootings, including in Uvalde, has made parents wary.
As for marketing … While trolling started in social media comment sections, some companies have found that emulating those provocative and controversial tactics generates profitable attention for their businesses and products.
Big Daddy Unlimited, the Florida-based parent company of Big Daddy Guns, does use Alex Jones as a spokesperson. Jones is infamous for being a right-wing conspiracist and school shooting denier. Protect Morgantown also took issue with BDU using an image of Kyle Rittenhouse, who was acquitted in the deaths of two protestors in Kenosha, Wis., to market their guns. It’s an illustrated likeness of Rittenhouse, sans facial features but recognizable by the silhouette, clothes and weapon of choice, with the words “Be a man among men. Be unlimited.”
While stakeholders standing up for their beliefs and their community is to be admired, Protect Morgantown’s protests have proven to be a double-edged sword.
Protect Morgantown successfully petitioned Starbucks, The Deck’s anchor tenant, to say it would withdraw from the development. But this move has not inspired any action by The Deck’s owner and has only helped inspire heated arguments online, generating free advertising for Big Daddy.
Big Daddy has responded to Protect Morgantown’s backlash with a troll-like glee. The company not only doubled down on its storefront at The Deck, it announced it is searching for a second location. It has used everything Protect Morgantown has thrown at it as fuel for its marketing fire, and now the company is red hot.
In the absence of protests and publicity, Big Daddy Guns may have settled into The Deck and been gone again with the year, like so many other businesses that have tried to make a go of it downtown. However, people attracted to controversial marketing are coming in from the surrounding areas and making a point to support this business in particular, pretty much guaranteeing its success. In the short term, at least.