Anthropologists tell us that ancient humans had to decide, when they heard a rustle in the grass, whether it was the wind, or a predator coming to eat them.  Those of our ancestors that survived (that would be our progenitors) decided it was a predator.

Usually the rustle in the grass was just the wind.  And no harm done.  But when it was a snake those ancestors got bitten and didn’t have any offspring.  So over time, the ones that survived were the ones driven by fear.  That has become a dominant trait for humans, as it is for many animals.

From a marketing point of view, or a political one (since politics is just the marketing of ideas), fear is a big seller.

A recent quote from a US politician indicated that fear drives their economy.  When you see how much the US spends on defense in a country that has hardly ever been attacked, you can see he was correct.  We both fear and are motivated by threats that are not real.  Consider the hysteria created by the ebola virus for a few weeks when the virus was not even present outside of tropical Africa.  Clearly, irrational fear was at work.

Or the people who cringe watching tarantulas or snakes on television – it is obvious these people are in no apparent danger, but the reaction persists.

The tremendous success of negative political advertising all comes from stimulating the fear response from voters through an effort to make the political opponent into a greater risk than the candidate.

So many products, and not just the obvious ones like home security and insurance, are sold using fear.  Speaking of home security and insurance, figures how a decline in robberies and break-ins, but solid growth in electronic security systems.  And in the US, gated communities.

Preventative medications, vitamins, all work from fear which may or may not be real. Why do the most educated and better nourished people take vitamins too?

And products can be killed based on rumours of issues.  We worked for many years with the makers of Equal sweetener.  Equal has faded partly based on unfounded rumours about Equal causing cancer.  No evidence. Just rumours fueling fear.  And gradually a “common knowledge” that Equal is dangerous.

So, marketers, if you can integrate fear into your selling proposition, do it.  It will motivate potential customers like almost no other emotion.  Whether it is ethical or not will be up to you to determine.

And as to negative political advertising, they will continue to promote fear to enhance their positions, because, well, we have always known those politicians are just snakes in the grass.

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