An online trend has been begging for professional attention since the digitization of the marketing industry – the fear-based marketing strategy.
In regard to its effectiveness, some marketers have thrown their support behind the idea while few marketers have disqualified the rarely-used strategy. Join the trending discussion on Quora.
Potency aside, what about the legal aspect?
Is it legal to coerce consumers online by terrifying them with the consequences associated with a problem or disease?
What are marketing associations like the American Marketing Association; Data & Marketing Associations; and other government agencies saying about fear-based marketing?
This article is an extension of my previous marketing guide— is Fear Mongering Still a Viable Marketing Strategy? Read that piece for better understanding of fear-based marketing and its potency.
What are the possible impacts of fear-based ads on the targeted audience?
We all know that marketing that triggers emotions works. But is it worth it for your brand’s reputation or the good of society? Let’s look at some of the impacts:
The Social Impact:
A large group of marketers believe fear-based ads arouse anxiety among internet users. Whether raising anxiety is harmful or not is unclear, since people have ranging levels of anxiety tolerance.
Going by the medical definition of fear, which is regarded as ‘an unpleasant feeling triggered by the perception of danger, real or imagined’— the use of fear-based marketing strategies should be labeled as unethical.
However, that’s not the present case, as there’s no popular global/national law restricting its usage. Even though a microscopic few believe the fear tactic is wrong, lots of marketers still support the technique.
The Physical Impact:
Some schools of thought believe a fear-based ad can only be unethical if the advertiser commits a fraud by putting out a product that doesn’t solve the problem discussed.
For instance, the Volkswagen company marketed diesel cars as eco-friendly even though they add to the depletion of the Ozone layer.
According to the FTC, “Volkswagen deceived consumers by selling or leasing more than 550,000 diesel cars based on false claims that the cars were low-emission, environmentally friendly.”
The Risk of Sending the Wrong Message
Fear-based marketing is a style of marketing that focuses more on the symptoms of a problem than the problem itself.
Just like every other marketing technique, the fear-based marketing strategy aims at creating urgency and offering the advertised product as the most effective solution.
Unlike other marketing strategies, the fear-based marketing method magnifies the risks of not buying the displayed product or the consequences of not tackling the problem.
Marketers and scholars who oppose this method focus on the ethicality rather than the potency.
According to the Australasian Marketing Journal 11(1) in the context of fear-based anti-smoking campaigns:
“The use of fear appeals may be ethical in Western societies where familiarity with advertising would ‘protect’ smokers from the tacit aggression of the message but may not be in developing countries where the advertising message may be accepted less critically and therefore, cause greater amount of anxiety to smokers.”
The journal views misconception of message and exaggeration of a product’s potency as major issues in less-developed countries.
The nature of fear-based ads permits disinformation. By exaggerating the consequences, citizens of less developed countries might over-hype the problem without making further investigations on the claims of the advertiser.
The Safety of Mentally-challenged Individuals
As mentioned earlier, various people have different anxiety level tolerances. The effects of fear-based marketing on healthy individuals are temporal and minimal.
But the main victims of the technique are mentally-challenged persons with anxiety disorder, post-traumatic anxiety disorder (PTSD), generalized anxiety disorder, separation anxiety, and agoraphobia.
The inability of global marketers associations to define the bounds of fear-based marketing is a hard swallow for many.
No one has ever been criticized for appealing to happiness; the only reason people frown at fear-based marketing is that it looks ugly and unhealthy.
While the victims (targeted consumers) may not be able to identify or vilify fear-based marketing, marketers who understand the nature and potential harm should set the limits for fear-based marketing and define its ethicality.
The Ethicality of Using Fear for Social Advertising
[Damien Arthur & Pascal Quester, 2003]
Is Fear Mongering Still a Viable Marketing Strategy
[Miracle oyedeji, 2020]
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