Fear is ubiquitous worldwide and so, it appears, is fear-based marketing.
Chris Wren (@chriswrenla) has recently contributed an excellent article, “Can Brand Value Overpower Fear-Based Marketing” to the Brand Strategy Insider content line-up. This piece draws on the ideas of many contemporary thinkers, so you should check it out for more detail. If you’re involved in branding—and frankly I think we all are in one way or the other—it’s worth the five minutes it will take you to read.
Mr. Wren starts by acknowledging the power of fear and scarcity to motivate action, noting that Brené Brown, a well-known TEDTalk speaker, considers the opposite of scarcity not to be abundance, as many think, but “enough.”
Citing Russ Henneberry at Crazy Egg, Mr. Wren says that fear is hardwired into our brains. When confronted by something fearsome, we wonder how likely it is to hurt us, how bad it will hurt, and whether we can avoid the pain.
But relying on fear can boomerang. Jennifer Perkins of Smith Brothers Agency warns that “Fear may cause people to stop and think momentarily, but in the long run, it may just cause frustration and actually have the opposite effect of what you had hoped for.” She advises making the interests of the target market and the advertiser congruent. Mr. Wren agrees, “There are legitimate reasons to highlight real threats that merit the attention of consumers. But we live in a world in which so many threats are wildly exaggerated or outright manufactured, that the role of an ethical brand is to consider which products, services and causes can only be effectively marketed using fear and limit their choices.” An interesting thought, and yet I wonder if this offers a bit too much latitude to some to continue their wicked ways.
Here are his thoughts for harnessing “the motivation of fear without relying on it:”
- Tell the truth, even if it hurts. Or don’t and risk embarrassment.
- Find ways remove anxiety.
- Demonstrate gallant privacy stewardship.
In Brand Strategy Insider’s Facebook page, Bob Bhojwani comments: “We have got used to marketing the fear and then selling the solution instead of offering true value. (Consider the technology marketing collateral you may have read that predicts dire results, for example, for those network security is outdated.) And brand strategy consultant Brad Van Auken says “I personally believe that we marketers should pay more attention to people’s desires and less attention to their anxieties.”
Sounds good to me.