Sponsored By Drexel's Charles D. Close School of Entrepreneurship

Fear is a primal motivator – it taps into basic survival instincts, propels us to think, form opinions, and act quickly. It’s no surprise that many marketers rely on fear-based narratives to drive messages or products. We have all seen ads that directly encompass this idea: smoking kills, the negative effects of drugs, political smear campaigns, etc.

But do extreme fear-based campaigns actually work?

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The American Psychological Association found that, “Fear appeals are particularly effective when the communication depicts relatively high amounts of fear, includes an efficacy message, stresses severity and susceptibility, recommends one-time only behaviors.”

So, what does this mean?

Fear appeals are effective, but if you use these tactics when marketing to your audiences, you should provide an immediate solution. The customer only hears the information you are providing once, and they’ve already reacted. The down-side is, you’ve created a one-time customer with no emotional connection to your brand.

In many texting and driving ads, fear marketing has become a go-to tactic. Volkswagen released an “eyes on the road” ad in a crowded Hong Kong movie theatre. Viewers watched the ad from the perspective of a person driving down a road. Everyone in the audience received a mass text message, and as the crowd looked at their phones to check the message, the vehicle smashed into a tree. This short, yet effective ad showed the dangers of distracted driving in a realistic and scary way.

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Fear marketing doesn’t always have to be this extreme. You may be wondering if there’s any way to use this tactic without terrifying your audience and still create an emotional attachment or reaction to your brand.

Many multinational companies use a softer approach in fear-based marketing. Instead of scaring the target market, brands subconsciously instill the fear that if you aren’t on board, you’re missing out. Nike’s, “Just do it”, Apple’s “Think different”, and L’oreal’s “Because you’re worth it” resonate with audiences by being cutting-edge and making them feel valued and trendy when using those products.

You can accomplish fear-based marketing without actually scaring your audience, but still using basic psychology to your advantage. This way, you’ll be able to effectively market to your target audience, while still receiving the emotional response you want to encourage.

Sarah Temple, Communications, Charles D. Close School of Entrepreneurship

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Sponsored content provided by Drexel’s Charles D. Close School of Entrepreneurship