Raise your hand if you’ve bought a gun based solely on the advertising and photography in a firearms magazine. Yeah, me too. Have you ever stopped to think about what goes in to a successful (and honest) advertising campaign? Recently I had the chance to speak with Josh Locatis, owner/operator of Tap Rack Bang Creative, one of the top media design firms in the U.S. that caters to gun and gear companies.
Surely given the right photography, software, and creative license, any outfit can put together a winning marketing publication? Not so fast. One of the most glaring examples of this misconception is the now historic Heckler and Koch product catalog depicting rounds loaded into a magazine backwards. Firearms enthusiasts live in a complicated world – asking a company to understand the intricacies of trigger-pulling without professional guidance is simply unrealistic.
Meet Locatis of Tap Rack Bang Creative; a gun company’s advertising dreams come true. Not only does he know which way the rounds face, but he also knows how to navigate the NFA – for a graphic designer that’s some next-level sh*t. Although I didn’t ask him if he wears a beret, Locatis is definitely an artist who also knows how to work a weapon system.
“I don’t waste my client’s time by asking them routine questions; I think they appreciate that,” says Locatis. “It saves them time and money.” WIthout getting political, the creative design and advertising world is not typically stocked with gun-people. So like any good businessman, Locatis both created and filled a niche – an artist who can also run clean mag changes and put rounds on target.
In the 2003 timeframe, Locatis officially entered the firearms industry by working as a graphics designer at his local range. In late 2006, he was approached by Gemtech to put together a catalog in exchange for a few suppressors. Demand for his services grew – his clients (and their customers) were happy, just as his overall business started to gather steam. Before long, Tap Rack Bang was designing media for a small outfit called Daniel Defense (you may have heard of them) at a time when they were simply making rails and accessories.
Although he’s too modest to say so, Locatis had a hand in shaping the previously bland, sterile and somewhat soulless gun-rag designs into the grittier, edgier advertising we are used to today. But that’s not to say he’s ready to sit back and maintain the status quo. “I’m through with guns laying on Pelican cases and leaning against truck tires,” said Locatis. “As designers we can do better than that.”
At the request of a customer a few years ago, Tap Rack Bang dove into the photography world. Previously Locatis relied on company-supplied photos to create layouts, but controlling the shutter gives Locatis more design freedom. But he’s careful not to bill himself as strictly a firearms photographer. “There are some serously talented photographers out there and I don’t ever want to encroach on their business or downplay their skills,” he said.
Even more refreshing than his creativity is Locatis’ business morals and ethics. When I asked him if he had ever turned down a job based on the quality of a product alone, there was no hesitation. “Oh yeah. I have an issue with outrageous and misleading claims. Especially when I’m asked to write copy that states a product is ‘proven’ or ‘battle tested’ when they clearly are not,” said Locatis.
Similarly, Locatis will not sign non-disclosure agreements with prospective clients. “Lack of trust is a bad way to start a relationship,” he said.
Tap Rack Bang is currently working through a deluge of 2017 SHOT Show materials for his regular clients. Which made me ask, are companies still asking for printed catalogs and brochures? “Contrary to popular belief, print is far from dead,” said Locatis. “People, especially gun people, appreciate the feel of quality printed stock.”
I’m not ashamed to admit it, I had to ask how much a “typical” marketing campaign would run. Of course, with all the options and variables, there is nothing typical about Tap Rack Bang’s work – a contract cost is impossible to calculate without specifics. However, it’s safe to say Locatis’ work demands a premium – and rightly so. His firm is capable of handling as much or as little of a project as a company needs.
But in the end, Locatis leaves it up to his clients to decide their requirements. “I’ll never put pressure on anyone to use my services, that’s not the way this works,” he said, adding “I’d rather companies come to me with a product or need and I’ll make it work.”
Flip through this month’s issue of your favorite gun periodical and you will more than likely drool over a dozen or so of Tap Rack Bang’s advertisements. This time, as you lust after that .XYZ caliber steel, aluminum and polymer new-hotness, know that there are artists out there that share our passion for firearms, but who also have the integrity not to use unbelievable claims just to sell you stuff. Here’s to hoping that Locatis and company haven’t cornered the market on honesty and standards.