In 1926 a priest named Father Ronald Knox caused panic in Britain when his radio drama, Broadcasting from the Barricades was first aired.The radio drama began innocently enough with a lecture on 18th century literature followed by the news and an update on the cricket scores, but by the time the 12 minute programme had ended one woman had fainted and another listener had called the Admiralty and demanded that the Navy be dispatched to London immediately.
Much like the Orson Wells production of War of the Worlds 12 years later, Father Knox used fake news reports to create a sense of fear among the people listening to the broadcast. As the BBC mention, “The Russian revolution was then less than a decade old, the General Strike already in preparation”. Father Knox tapped into this general sense of fear. Fake news and the sound of oranges being smashed in a studio was enough to convince many listeners that “…Big Ben had been toppled by trench mortars, the Savoy Hotel torched and a Government minister lynched”.
Father Knox and Orson Wells managed to tap into the fears of their audience and many marketers have also adopted the same tactics. We take a look at why so many companies market by fear and how you too can dance with the devil to make sales.
A recent post by Seth Godin highlighted three forms of marketing, fear, love and hope. There are obvious examples of fear marketing, such as, security firms and defence manufacturers, but the “pick up artist” also relies on fear marketing to make their money.
A pick up artist, according to Wikipedia is: “a term used to a term used to describe a man who is skilled in meeting, attracting, and seducing women”. As we can see from the following extract from an article on The Times website, the pick up artist sell their books and courses through fear:
Ross Jeffries, the man whom Strauss and every other “guru” acknowledges as the father of the modern seduction movement, believes there is a huge secondary market that is yet to be tapped. “At the moment,” Jeffries says, the seduction market is chiefly “guys who can’t get women at all”. The huge secondary market he foresees is “guys who want to trade up… guys who are living with women they are not attracted to and have to talk themselves into staying with”.
The pick up artist relies on the fear of loneliness. The secondary market mentioned in the article, might arguably be more “hope” based marketing, but currently, the pick up artists main marketing weapon is fear. And it seems to be working, with some short courses costing £1,000 or more.
The majority of beauty products also operate on exploiting personal insecurity. As Marilyn Manson points out in the documentary, Bowling for Columbine, we’re sold beauty and hygiene products through fear. You need toothpaste so you don’t have bad breath, otherwise nobody will talk to you and you need acne cream so that the opposite sex will find you attractive. As Manson says, “Keep everyone afraid and they’ll consume”.
Successful fear marketing
Fear can motivate people to take action. Anti-smoking campaigns are usually marketed to make people fear the consequences of smoking. The fear you are trying to tap into must be significant enough that people will be worried about it and also be relevant to that individual.
Kim Witte’s paper on fear appeal explains that successful messages marketed by fear usually illustrate “high levels of threat” and “high levels of efficacy”. From the paper:
“…the interaction between threat and efficacy has not been consistently represented or addressed in fear appeal studies. Rogers and colleagues (e.g., Kleinot & Rogers, 1982; Rogers & Mewborn, 1976) have demonstrated that fear appeals with high levels of threat (e.g., “you are susceptible to the severe disease AIDS”) and high levels of efficacy (e. 8·, “you are able to effectively and easily prevent AIDS by using condoms”) produce message acceptance. In contrast, fear appeals with high levels of threat (e.g., “lung cancer is a severe disease that you are susceptible to because you smoke cigarettes”) and low levels of efficacy (e.g., “it’s unlikely that you’ll be able to quit smoking cigarettes, and it’s probably too late to prevent lung cancer anyway”) result in message rejection.”
So, according to Witte’s research, in order to effectively market through fear you’ll need to:
- Highlight a severe enough threat
- Provide an actionable solution to combat the threat
Highlighting a severe threat doesn’t mean that you have to convince someone their life will be over if they don’t respond to your marketing message. As this article on investopdia points out, the fear of missing an opportunity to make money can be a more powerful motivator than fear of losing your lifesavings. Much like the example of lung disease marketing in the Witte paper, people probably feel there is little they can do about losing their entire lifesavings, but they will take action if they feel the problem is something they have some control over.
If you can show your audience that you can provide a simple to use solution to their problems they’ll jump at the chance to use your product or service.
How to use fear
If you’re looking to utilize fear marketing in your own campaign then you need to remember the following key points:
Highlight a severe enough threat: As explained above, the threat doesn’t necessarily need to suggest that a persons life is in danger, just that there is a enough of a threat to make it worthwhile responding to the danger.
Make the problem relevant to the individual: We see thousands of messages each day and ignore the vast majority of them. You need an individual to relate to a problem before they will accept the solution. As Witte shows, most examples of fear marketing need to contain “personalistic language”, such as, “smokers like you”.
Provide a simple solution to combat the threat: Your solution needs to be simple enough that people feel they still have control over the final outcome. If the solution is too difficult to undertake or doesn’t represent any value in response to the problem then it’s unlikely that people will take action.
Fear of missing out: Most sales pages are written to highlighting benefits, however, if you show someone what they could lose out on then they might be more inclined to take action. This can be achieved through mentioning that influencers are already listening to your message or by using limited time offers. In terms of social media marketing, the impact of influencers is probably the most successful method for compelling people to take action. If you can convince key influencers in your particular field to use your product or service then other people are likely to follow.
Fear marketing in the near future
There’s been much talk about a recession in the US, but with the interdependence between nations, a US recession is likely to affect other parts of the world too. A global recession means that fear marketing will become far more prevalent over the next few years.
Fear is a basic survival instinct. In a recession, more people will be out of work and be afraid of losing their homes and that will compel them to take more chances on marketing messages that play on our sense of insecurity. When the going gets tough, people get desperate.
Just because some unscrupulous people use fear marketing, it doesn’t mean that it’s necessarily a bad thing. Fear marketing can lead to positive outcomes. It probably curtailed the spread of HIV/AIDS in many countries and lowered the rate of drink-driving accidents. Fear marketing doesn’t mean you have to emulate Mr Burns, just that you have to scare people enough to take action.
What are your thoughts on fear marketing? Leave your opinions below
Bookmark and Share this story!