Can Brand Value Overpower Fear-Based Marketing?

Can Brand Value Overpower Fear-Based Marketing?

Last year, we featured a piece on Branding Strategy Insider
called
FEAR: The Ultimate Brand Builder?
In which we explored the ways
fear and scarcity are used to motivate and persuade consumers to
take action, and ideas to harness such a powerful motivation
without having to rely on it. As Ted-talk phenom and author Brene
Brown observed, “We
live in a culture with a strong sense of scarcity
. We wake up
in the morning and we say, ‘I didn’t get enough sleep.’ And
we hit the pillow saying, ‘I didn’t get enough done.’ We’re
never thin enough, extraordinary enough or good enough – until we
decide that we are. For me, the opposite of scarcity is not
abundance. It’s enough. I’m enough. My kids are enough.”

One might argue that in the last five years, the problem has
gotten worse – the bit about our culture having a strong sense of
scarcity. As
Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker says
, “It’s easy to get
discouraged by the ceaseless news of violence, poverty, and
disease. But the news presents a distorted view of the world. News
is about things that happen, not things that don’t happen. You
never see a TV crew reporting that a country isn’t at war, or
that a city hasn’t had a mass shooting that day, or that millions
of 80-year-olds are alive and well.” In fact, violent crime has
fallen by half since 1992. Worldwide, fewer babies die, more
children go to school, more people live in democracies, more can
afford simple luxuries, fewer get sick, and more live to old age.
It doesn’t mean things are perfect, or that some parts of the
world are worse, but generally speaking, things on a whole are
better today for most of the world.

So why all of the fear?

Fear works by activating some ancient systems hardwired into our
brains around the perception of threats. Russ
Henneberry at Crazy Egg
breaks this down into three primary
considerations:

  1. Perceived vulnerability – ‘How likely is it to hurt
    me’
  2. Perceived severity – ‘How bad will it hurt’
  3. Efficacy – ‘Do I have the ability to avoid the pain’

But fear can backfire. Jennifer Perkins, Director of Ethnography
and Consumer insights at Smith Brothers Agency, warns, “Fear may
cause people to stop and think momentarily, but in the long run, it
may just cause frustration and actually have the opposite effect of
what you had hoped for. Fear appeals, such as those alerting people
to the dangers of drunk driving or depletion of natural resources,
could be effective. In these instances, the public good and the
advertiser’s interests are congruent.”

For brands, being congruent is the key. There are legitimate
reasons to highlight real threats that merit the attention of
consumers. But we live in a world in which so many threats are
wildly exaggerated or outright manufactured, that the role of an
ethical brand is to consider which products, services and causes
can only be effectively marketed using fear and limit their choices
to those.

Here are three ideas that might harness the motivation of fear
without relying on it:

1. Tell the truth, even if it hurts. Or don’t and risk
embarrassment:
With the US mid-term elections upon us,
Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg released a statement about what their
brand is doing to be sure bad actors aren’t manipulating the
election. Yet a
Business Insider article just a few days ago
proved that all of
Facebook’s advanced AI technology couldn’t detect a flaw that
should have been immediately flagged.

2. Find ways to remove anxiety:
Axe’s recent “Is it OK for guys” campaign
did a fantastic
job highlighting male vulnerabilities, and perhaps alleviating
anxiety about questions that may be culturally taboo. There are a
lot of irrational fears in the world that can be played on, or
systematically dismantled. Brands should do the latter.

3. Demonstrate gallant privacy stewardship:
Brands have access to more and more data about customers, and
customers don’t always know when, where and who has access to
their information. Apple’s Tim Cook has been one of big tech’s
only guardians of personal privacy. Just a few weeks ago they
deployed a technology that prevents advertisers from tracking
Safari users from site to site.

Many in our profession have built a dependency on fear to drive
their brands. Perhaps Bob Bhojwani put it best in his comment on
Branding
Strategy Insider’s facebook page
when he observed; “We have
got used to marketing the fear and then selling the solution
instead of offering true value.”

Perhaps marketing fear is a sign of a brand that is unable to
compete on customer desires alone. After all, if your offering is
appealing to wants and needs why motivate through fear?

More brands should act on Brad Van Auken’s prescient advice.
He said, “I personally believe that we marketers should
pay more attention to people’s desires and less attention to
their anxieties
. It would make for a far more sane and pleasant
world. And, we as marketers with our barrage of messages contribute
more to the nature of our shared reality than we might
imagine.”

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Can Brand Value Overpower Fear-Based Marketing?