“We don’t care about being subtle. We care about being effective.” So said current Kastak Arms CEO Thaddeus DeWitt at a recent shareholders meeting. The comment came in response to criticism over the company’s latest marketing campaign. The ad features a young civilian family of four standing outside of a modest house. With flames licking the foreground, two kids huddle next to their parents, who each hold a Kastak weapon. The wife blows smoke from the barrel of her gun. The husband holds his weapon high, leading the eye to the tagline “Protect your Empire!” next to the company’s ubiquitous logo — a clenched fist coming at the viewer.
Kastak Arms makes inexpensive energy weapons with intimidating names like Devastator and Firestorm, and aggressively markets them to distressed parts of the Empire. Even though the company portrays itself as providing weapons for personal defense, the brand has become more readily identified with people who use them for aggressive and unlawful purposes.
“Let there be no mistake,” Thaddeus DeWitt continued in his speech to shareholders, “we make guns, like countless other manufactures in this Empire, but we get criticized because our ads are honest about owning a weapon. Having one is about more than protection. It’s also about power.” Kastak’s stated goal is to make effective and affordable weapons for everyday Citizens and civilians. However, critics argue that the company’s business model floods the streets with cheap weapons that cause more violence than they stop.
Shortly after Virgil fell to the Vanduul, Vega System was not only flooded with refugees, but had suddenly become part of the conflict’s front line. The looming threat of attack drove both businesses and the public from the prosperous planet of Selene. Those who chose to stay, or could not afford to leave, worried about what would happen if a Vanduul attack cut them off from the rest of the Empire. So Selene’s Governors Council strove to make their planet self-sufficient. With no native personal defense weapons manufacturer, they decided to create their own.
Technically, Kastak Arms was established in 2738 as a public-private partnership between Selene’s Governors Council and a consortium of local business interests. Named after the first city to fall to the Vanduul in the attack on Virgil, the company’s mission statement was to make powerful weapons available to Selene’s public at a modest price, so if the invasion came all Citizens and civilians would be able to defend themselves. Despite the hysteria, the Vanduul attack on Selene never arrived. Instead, the planet became awash with weapons that, combined with an unstable economy, were attributed to a rising crime rate.
Public safety groups protested that the Governors Council was profiting off the violence caused by Kastak Arms. In 2753, a rogue Kastak executive was arrested after tampering with Vega’s early warning system for Vanduul attacks in an effort to spur sales. Selene’s Governors Council moved to dissolve the company. The Council’s lone dissenting voice was Hiram Larcher, who delayed the vote, allowing Kastak’s private partners the time to put together a bid to buy the Council’s stake in the company. Larcher successfully lobbied the Governors Council into taking the bid, then promptly resigned from his seat to become Kastak’s CEO.
Today’s Kastak Arms is the result of Hiram Larcher’s vision. Once the company became a wholly private endeavor, Larcher implemented policies that he had been pushing for on the Governors Council. Sensing saturation of Selene’s market, Larcher brought the brand to Bremen amidst a massive ad campaign featuring an attractive model standing over a dead Vanduul and holding a Kastak shotgun. The ad’s copy read, “There’s a reason the Vanduul avoid Vega,” and sparked a heated debate among pundits on the Spectrum, which generated a windfall of free advertising for Kastak. Sales climbed and allowed the company to increase operations across the Empire.
As the company expanded, it quickly realized it was better for its bottom line to advertise on the streets of Hyperion instead of the salons of Terra. So, before the company entered a new system, they would make aggressive ad buys in low-income areas, letting its pervasive and provocative ads stir up consumer interest and controversy before its weapons landed on shelves. To this day, ads for Kastak Arms are a common sight in lower income neighborhoods like Newcastle and Tram. When critics charge that Kastak spurs violence in such areas, company officials point to high sales and affordable ad space as justification for its practices. As Hiram Larcher bluntly said in an interview, “These people need affordable guns. Look how much crime and violence they have to deal with. Do you know how dangerous it would be for them to go unarmed?”
Over the years, Kastak Arms has worked hard to cultivate an image as a corporate underdog. A common thread in its marketing is to portray itself as the much maligned gun manufacturer whose only mission is to provide cheap protection for the masses. This image is more than an advertising ploy, though. Historians credit Kastak Arms with playing a pivotal role in the overthrow of Ariane Effendi, Locke’s dictatorial ruler during the early 29th century. The availability of Kastak weapons allowed opposition leader Omar Astacio to arm the planet’s oppressed populace.
Following the revolution, Astacio sent the official flag of Locke’s new government to Kastak Arms as a thank you. The flag was framed and has been displayed in the lobby of the company’s corporate headquarters ever since. More recently, the company came to the aid of the Asura police after they went on strike. One of their complaints was about being outgunned by criminals. After hearing this, Kastak donated weapons to the force to upgrade their capabilities. It was a smart and shrewd maneuver that has bought the company a wave of good will.
Whether Kastak Arms’ business practices have led to a safer society is debatable. Whether its practices have been good for the company’s bottom line is beyond doubt.