The prescription rate for anxiety medication is at an all-time high. People are overstressed and living in a state of tension (perhaps even paranoia) has become the new normal. Most concerns are self-invented, ‘what if’ scenarios that fortunately will never come to fruition. Mark Twain famously said, “I've had a lot of worries in my life, most of which never happened.”
The imagination, however, is wild, and advertisers know it. Their use of fear appeal, is effective because it scares people into remedial or preventative action. Campaigns are developed to intentionally play on or even fabricate cause for concern. Then, consumers buy-in to curing or avoiding the dreaded repercussions.
When a fear is given a name, it exponentially increases its authenticity and power. Bad breath wasn’t invented by Listerine, but the term Halitosis sure was. They created a memorable, medicinal-sounding name for something no one wants; and it just so happened Listerine had the solution for it.
A company can even concoct a fear or condition to target a perceived vulnerability. A person’s home or car stinks and they just don't realize it. How embarrassing for them and unpleasant for their guests. But they should take comfort that it's not their fault. According to Procter & Gamble's genius campaign, they've just become 'noseblind'. Febreze to the rescue.
Alternatively, instead of titling the fear, a brand can name the solution. The breath mint Certs invented Retsyn. A pharmaceuticalesque label for the halitosis combating mixture that produces the green flecks in their product. Nasty tooth decay can be painful, unsightly, and expensive to correct. Crest came up with Fluoristan (stannous fluoride) and Colgate invented Gardol. A clever, catchy moniker for sodium lauroyl sarcosinate, that inspires consumers to need it and ‘guard all’ their teeth.
Fear appeal is effective in advertising because it speaks to mass amounts of people and makes everyone equal. Human beings are the same when it comes to evading consequences; self-preservation and protection are instinctual. Our information overloaded, hypervigilant society makes for an ideal breeding ground for scare tactics to morph into persuasive marketing strategies - and for new monsters to start lurking in the light.