Brand Building And Fear

Brad VanAuken The Blake ProjectSeptember 22, 20104 min

As astute marketers have known for some time, fear sells. People, in general, tend to be insecure about many things.

They fear that they are not attractive to the opposite sex. They fear that they cannot perform as well as others sexually. They fear that they will be discovered to be incompetent. They fear that they are failures relative to their peers. They fear that their lives do not amount to much. They fear that they will be discovered to be frauds. They fear that they might lose their jobs. They fear that they will not have enough money to pay their bills. They fear that they will not have enough money on which to retire. They fear that they will not be successful in raising their children. They fear that their children will not do as well as they have done in life. They fear that they lack status compared to others. They fear that they will make a mistake or do something embarrassing. They fear that they will not be liked by others. They fear that they are aging. They fear that their country (and society in general) is going downhill. They fear that they will be the victims of crimes. They fear terrorism. They fear that they might get cancer or some other horrible disease. They fear a wrathful God. They fear death. And they even fear that they will be completely forgotten after their deaths.

Wow, all of those fears make you want to stay safely snuggled up in your bed every morning. Maybe it would be best not to get out of bed at all. Clearly fear works at a very deep level, which is what makes it so effective in marketing. It is easy to create a campaign that communicates one or more of the following ways for people to address their fears. If you buy our brand.

You will look and feel younger

You will have more energy

You will live longer

You will be more beautiful or handsome

People will find you more attractive

You will perform better sexually

You will feel smarter

You will be perceived to be competent

You will have more status

You will be admired

You will be looked up to

You will be envied

People will like you more

You will have more friends

You will no longer feel lonely

People will feel more comfortable around you

You will feel more comfortable around others

Your children will love you more

You will not have to worry about your retirement

You will be happier

But, of course, most brands rarely help people conquer their fears, at least permanently. The fears always seem to re-emerge, which of course leads to ongoing opportunities for marketers.

Fear clearly works when it comes to marketing messages. But consider this. What if people began to realize that most of their fears were unfounded? What if they concluded that they would be happier and healthier if they were to rid themselves of their fears? What if people decided that they no longer wanted to be driven by fears and anxieties, but rather by their passions and joys? What if they were to face their fears and transcend those fears? Sound too farfetched?  Sound like wishful thinking? Sound like the unfounded hopes of a naive idealist? But, what if it were true? What then? How would marketers change their messages? Would those messages then tap into people’s deepest desires and longings? What are those desires and longings?

Don’t people just want to be accepted unconditionally? Loved unconditionally? Forgiven unconditionally? Would they desire the joy of human relationships and a feeling of connectedness to others and to all things?  Would they seek out serenity and grace and beauty and art and dancing and music and celebration and delight? Would they long for freedom and creative expression and spontaneity and ease?  Would they want to feel as if they were floating or soaring or absorbed into expansiveness? Would they crave the feeling of wholeness or completion?

People’s deepest feelings generally fall into two buckets: (1) anxieties/fears and (2) desires/longings. People try to avoid that which they fear and seek that for which they long. 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. And, just think of what fun it would be to deliver on the promise of grace or beauty or freedom or spontaneity? It might make discovering new ways to live the brand promise that much more fun.

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Brad VanAuken The Blake Project


  • Ecologythinking

    September 23, 2010 at 5:33 pm

    Building your brand on fear, a good long term strategy? Probably not. (sadly most environmental communication seems to be about all the losses we will have). Do we need to strike a balance? Personally I’m not fond of fear at all, using it as a marketing tool will only help build a society which is permeated by fear in one sense or the other.

    So what do we do with a reality that borders on the worst of nightmare? Do we simply forget about it? Do we add it together with happy news that we’ll be able to manage this crisis as well, if we only do good enough/consume the right stuff/do our share? These are difficult questions.

  • Brad VanAuken

    September 27, 2010 at 6:02 pm

    I agree, a society in which most of the messaging is fear based leads to a fear permeated/driven society, which is clearly not healthy. And, this becomes self-sustaining. The more fear-driven a society becomes the more effective fear based messaging is. Having said that, promising avoidance of those things that we fear still seems to be the most powerful motivator in our society. I would recommend a combination of fear avoidance but with a healthy dose of helping people envision the ideal outcome, something toward which they could aspire. In the long run, people need to overcome their fears. They need to confront and transcend them. After that happens, the only marketing messages that would work would be those that painted the picture of the desired outcome or end state, reinforcing a much healthier society.

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