Is fear mongering still a viable marketing Strategy

Miracle Oyedeji
Jan 11 · 4 min read

Fear, the crazy feeling that pushed Romans into buying ‘tickets to heaven’ during the late medieval age, is pretty much still a potent factor in marketing. High school biology defines fear as a means of survival that triggers a fight or flight response in an organism when it perceives danger.

Like every other feeling, fear can be exploited; for instance, by educating people on the risks of unprotected sex, the condom industry makes billions of dollars from condom sales on a regular basis. Before the fear-based campaign, most people saw no reason to use condoms, but the massive spread of HIV and AIDS in the 1920s forever changed the condom industry.

It is easier to appeal to people’s fear than to get them to buy your product because of a positive desire like hope, love, or happiness. In the words of Dan Brown, the writer of the Da Vinci code, ‘men go far greater lengths to avoid what they fear than to obtain what they desire.’

Brief Reflection: Fear is the only machine that can turn an ignored product into a basic necessity. Until the unfortunate outbreak of HIV & AIDS in 1920s, condom was not just ignored but also unknown among the human population. However, the fear of AIDS turned condom into a basic necessity

– Miracle Oyedeji (2020 — Is fear mongering still a viable marketing method)

4 Components every fear-based campaign must have

To get a historical and modern view of what a fear-based campaign should look like, we’re going to focus on the case of the 1500s indulgence-gate during the papacy of Pope Leo X and the impact of sex education on the sales of condom. Below are the four components every fear-based marketing campaign must have;

A consequence of Inaction

The anti-HIV campaign and Roman Catholic Indulgence sermons had one thing in common — consequence of inaction. Going to hell was a consequence of not participating in indulgence acts while contracting an STI is a likely consequence of not using condom during sex.

Without a consequence for not acting, potential consumers might ignore your product ads. However, if you could establish a direct or indirect consequence for not buying your product, people would click the buy button for themselves and their loved ones. We’ve seen this tactic work in families, where parents buy condoms for the children before attending Prom or a date.

A clear picture of victimhood

To a great percentage of people, ‘seeing is believing’. If your campaign doesn’t include a clear picture of victimhood, your potential customers might see your message as fake or unworthy.

After the outbreak of HIV & AIDS, there was a global campaign against the spread of the disease and the driving force of these campaigns consisted of the heart-melting pictures of HIV victims in Congo.

Also, the late medieval era saw the exploitation of Romans by Leo X. His scheme, which required people to pay for the forgiveness of their sins, sounds absurd, but the fear of hell made them buy the tickets regardless.

Evidence is needed to spark scary imaginations in people. The good news about sparking scary thoughts is that they require little effort and fearful imaginations have a probability of multiplying quickly.

An Iota of humanitarianism

Humans have the ability to detect self-interest, no matter how rational your ad campaign sounds. A good example is the inevitable failure of the Pope Leo X scheme. Protestant religious leaders like Martin Luther rose against the exploitative schemes of the then-catholic church.

If your campaign is too promotional or less humanitarian, sooner or later, people would resist your products.

Education

A good fear-based ad should not just explain the benefits of a product, but also explain how it works. People barely trust what they don’t understand. You can’t blame them for being curious, since the world is filled with fake products.

In addition to including detailed product description, your campaign should involve government or authoritative agencies recommendations. Having an authoritative agency back your product would help people trust your product.

Takeaway Points

High school biology defines fear as a means of survival that triggers a fight or flight response in an organism when it perceives danger.

Fear is the only machine that can turn an ignored product into a basic necessity.

Without a consequence for not acting, potential consumers ignore your product ads.

Evidence is needed to spark scary imaginations in people.

If your campaign is too promotional or less humanitarian, sooner or later, people would resist your products.

Miracle Oyedeji

Written by

Miracle Oyedeji is a creative writer with more than 8 years experience in Business Journalism. He’s been featured on Startup TV, Growmap, and SODP.

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