My colleague, Mike Seidle has writtien an excellent post on the use of fear in marketing. It is a topic I sometimes bring up in my own posts. He has nailed some good ones here. You can read his post at his site:
Ever wonder why the news cycle keeps getting more and more fear-centric? Why do political special interest groups spend so much on creating alarm? It’s pretty simple:
Marketers, the media and politicians are hacking your brain.
Before you get out the tinfoil hat, let’s discuss the security hole they are exploiting:
Your built-in capacity for all-or-nothing responses to fears and pre-wiring to overreact to threats.
Randolph Nesse, provides quite a bit of detail on this phenomena in is an evolutionary biologist who has spent considerable time researching all-or-nothing defenses. All-or-nothing defenses are very costly and appear to be like overreactions to a threat that is statistically unlikley to result in harm. Nesse has found that overreactions happen to work well in nature when analyzed over time. Even though a bird may abandon hundreds of meals because of passing shadows, the response kept the bird alive the single time the threat was real.
Overreaction is tough to unlearn. Animals continue to overreact for generations even when the original
threat has been gone for generations. This is why birds born in
captivity at the zoo still fly away when a shadow passes overhead despite a zero chance of being eaten by a predator.
So what about people? Here’s where it gets interesting. People have a capacity for overreaction to threats, too. How about our response to swine flu? It’s not hard for marketers to use Nesse’s “smoke detector principle” to manipulNoted security guru Bruce Schneider uses the example of a hotel evacuation because of a fire alarm, which as it turns out isn’t very to be likely to be caused by an actual fire. According to Schneider:
We tend to be poor judges of risk. We overact to rare risks, we ignore long-term risks,. We get risks wrong — threats, probabilities, and costs
– all the time. When we’re afraid, really afraid, we’ll do almost
anything to make that fear go away. Both politicians and marketers have
learned to push that fear button to get us to do what they want. – Schneider on Security
Schneider has understated what is going on. People who make a living influencing others have changed how they do their job because it’s just far too easy to push the panic button. People will respond predictably 99% of the time: react to avoid the perceived fear. Here’s how it works:
1. Paint picture of security.
2. Inject an easy to identify threat to the picture that gets the right flavor of fear.
3. Provide an easy safe place to find security.
Here’s one you’ve seen:
- The picture: life with an attractive mate.
- The fear: failure to perform.
- Provide an easy safe place to run to. (Male enhancement pill)
- The picture: Successful children.
- The fear: Supporting jobless bums for a lifetime.
- The safe place: Increase your taxes, build new Taj Mahal school
It’s so easy, a marketing script kiddie can do it. And unfortunately, it works.