In the mail yesterday I came across a direct mail piece for www.basements.com with the warning "more hurricanes predicted" – aiming to convince me to waterproof my home. I can only hope that this piece was created before recent tragedies and not a deliberate attempt to cash in on the misfortune of others. But it did start me thinking of this whole genre of marketing that is becoming more and more popular, perhaps in response to the American news media’s focus on the dangers of our society. Evening news is about murders, arson, car accidents and shootings. Primetime specials on 20/20 and the like promise vital scraps of information about products that "could kill us." Even the political climate and messages from the government in the US ring of fear from elevated terror alerts to "credible threats." In our society of fear, it is no surprise that fear marketing is becoming so widespread, and even more disturbingly, that it works so well.
Fear marketers paint the picture of what your life might be like if you don’t get their product. They play into already existing fears, or paint new ones that consumers may never have considered. The end result is the consumer perception that the advertised product or service is a necessity to keep their family safe, make their life less dangerous, or avoid a situation they dread. But should we do it? Doesn’t this type of marketing just add to the plague of society, fostering fear and making us a weaker people as a result? Probably – but the problem with fear marketing is that it often works. And for many marketers, it’s tough to leave behind a morally questionable strategy when it ends up working. Especially when you can’t get sued for it.