Terror on the mind street: fear, fear appeal and solution

Watch television or open a magazine or log on to Internet at your risk. An exposure can cause anxiety, fear and feeling of inadequacy. Consider what happens when your guards are down and you come in contract with marketing communication:

  •  Kent and Acquguard: get scared of bacteria in water that you drink
  • Autocop central locking: perpetuate fear of car theft
  • Bournvita and Horlicks: fear of inadequate nourishment
  • HDFC Life insurance: loss of dignity and self respect
  • Honda and Yamaha generators: fear of power failure
  • Sunsilk: anxiety about  hair
  • Fair & Lovely and Fair & Handsome: fear of rejection
  • Anchor switch: danger of an electric shock
  • Quick Heal: fear of viruses in computer and mobiles
  • Lakme Sunscreen: fear of skin damage from sun exposure
  • Ponds: fear of ageing
  • Godrej hair dye: fear of grey hair
  • I Pill: fear of unwanted pregnancy
  • Colgate Total: fear of bacteria build up in mouth
  • Close up: fear of bad breath
  • Nivea: fear of under arm dark spots
  • Dettol and Lifebuoy hand sanitizer: fear of germs on your hands
  • VLCC: fear of flab
  • Hit: fear of mosquito bite
  • Nutrogena face wash: fear of pimples on your face
  • Dove: fear of smelly underarms
  • Kurl On: fear of back problem
  • Lysol: fear of germs on the floor
  • All Clear: fear of dandruff
  • Krack: fear of cracked heels

And the list goes on. Fear is one of the most powerful behavior inducing emotions. Brands rely on fear and anxiety to throw a prospect out of balance. Fear strategy is carefully crafted, too much of fear can switch off the customer and too little  fear may not create an anxious mind. Common to the use of fear appeal are three states: bring something on the surface as a problem, create an enlarged problem perception, trigger anxiety and finally close the loop with the brand as a solution (consider an ad of Samsung phone in which asking for directions is propagated as a problem).


Fear is a powerful marketing tool. Lindstrom notes that we avoid fear but yet it holds some kind of attraction (horror movies and crime serials). There is a biological reason for it. Fear increases adrenaline flow sending us into fight or flight mode which in turn releases epinephrine (a hormone), a deeply satisfying sensation. Those areas of brain responsible for processing two emotions of fear and pleasure tend to have considerable overlap. Neuroscientists say fear is far more powerful than reason. The amygdala, which is our fear centre, over rides cortex (centre of logic and thoughts). Why fear works is because under situation of fear or threat the body gets into an automatic mode in which the blood is directed away from brain making us unable to think clearly (making us part stupid) but we remain thoughtful enough to process persuasive suggestion. 

Fear works by something like a partial seizure. We sense danger but do not get scared enough to completely shut down. Quite opposite happens in many social marketing campaigns like cigarettes which fail to influence because the mind is completely seized.


3 thoughts on “Terror on the mind street: fear, fear appeal and solution

  1. “bring something on the surface as a problem, create an enlarged problem perception, trigger anxiety and finally close the loop with the brand as a solution”

    Perfect! I’ve been applying this model in my own marketing strategies and it’s really working well. A small problem, exaggerated to a point and then.. the solution!

  2. Pingback: Beyond fear itself: a healthy relationship with fear « power of language blog: partnering with reality by JR Fibonacci

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