When Using "Fear" Backfires in your Marketing

7 replies

Yesterday I was reading about a study that was done on FEAR and how it can be either a persuasive motivator or a paralyzing obstacle, depending upon how the fear is communicated. Of course my mind immediately began racing to apply these findings to online marketing. It's a curse I have (trying to discover marketing applications), a character flaw, that often keeps me awake for hours at night. Anyway, back to the study...

Researchers at Howard Leventhal and Assoc, through controlled experiments, found that a high fear message was typically either a persuasive motivator or a paralyzing roadblock to most of the study participants (who didn't know they were in an experiment) depending upon one additional factor - whether or not the message included a plan or steps identifying the specific action that must be taken in order to remove the fear.

So what do these findings have to do with online marketing? Of course, that's up to your to draw your own conclusions, but here are a few thoughts I had for my marketing:

1- Fear is often used as the driving emotion for CTA (calls to action). Just announcing that an offer is "closing soon," "shutting down at midnight," "there are only 3 copies left," or "gone forever," without further explaining the steps to avoid the fear the prospect has of losing out on the deal, may cause the exact opposite reaction than what the marketer wants! The prospect may "shut down" or "blow off" the deal as "not for me." Remember, it's easier and less risky to take no action than to take some action (especially when a purchase or a sign-up is involved).

2- Fear is used in marketing regularly to persuade prospects that they will not be successful, not be accepted, or not be taken seriously if they don't join the "in crowd" - the people that have the right information, or status, or license (your product). So how do you become part of the elite or privileged minority? You buy my product, or course, or you sign up for XYZ. Here again there is application for the study findings mentioned above. The fear of being left out will only be a positive motivator if it is accompanied with a specific plan or steps showing how to alleviate the fear; otherwise, the marketing principle (fear of being left out) will backfire and prospects will move on to other happier, less fearful things.

3- Fear of change, fear of technology, fear of the future, etc. Most prospects regularly have such fears - we all do to some extent! If you are a marketer eliciting the emotion of fear, and you just scare your prospects without leading them by the hand to allay their fears, you are probably going to bomb with your message. Fear causes panic and even illogical reasoning if it is threatening enough. That's not what you want as a persuader or motivator to accept an offer.

I hope these ideas have given you some "food for thought" about your marketing approaches. Fear is used as a motivator by many marketers. But fear is a delicate emotion, according to this study, and you need to understand that it's best to always provide a step-by-step plan of how to alleviate the fear . . . otherwise, creating fear can backfire and paralyze your prospects.

The best to all of you,

#backfires #fear #marketing
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  • Profile picture of the author Randall Magwood
    I think that using comedy in marketing can backfire just as much. I wonder what fear & comedy wrongly done would do to a promotion..... probably result in terrible ideas, commercials, (and products) such as the "Scary Movie" movies or the non-funny "Scream" parody movie series.
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  • Profile picture of the author Brent Stangel
    I'm building an ecom site and I must admit I use; "exclusive designs that may not be available for long."

    Can't wait to launch and see how that goes!

    Get Off The Warrior Forum Now & Don't Come Back If You Want To Succeed!
    All The Real Marketers Are Gone. There's Nothing Left But Weak, Sniveling Wanna-Bees!
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  • Profile picture of the author SiteNameSales
    Fear is a big word with a lot of different connotations. I think words like "worry, anxiety, uneasiness, dismay, concern, angst, consternation, trepidation, misgivings, qualms" would more accurately describe a good advertising pitch about solving problems in the IM sector.
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    • Profile picture of the author JasonTheFreeman
      I agree with you. What is mentioned above isn't really of the same intensity as fear. I think it's more of exploitation of people's insecurities. I've always seen these types of advertising as a more of an emotional blackmail. It makes me wonder if there are honest advertisements like.

      We're not number 1. But we get the job done.

      Something like that. hhmmmmm.
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  • Profile picture of the author discrat
    Yes, Fear can really backfire in Marketing especially if it is Fear found in the Marketer himself. I think that is one of the initial obstacles a Marketer must squarely face head on and overcome before he even slightly begins to worry about alleviating the Fears of his audience
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  • Profile picture of the author ChrisBa
    This is an interesting perspective and I often use this angle as well.

    Reminds me of one time I was in best buy and a lady was buying a laptop and the salesman was trying to pitch her on their protection plan, going on and on about the costs to repair a laptop if she doesn't buy this plan. She eventually walked out and told him if their laptops break this much she isn't going to buy it. It was an interesting experience.
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