When you take a look at historic marketing campaigns like #Truth or D.A.R.E., you may have torn opinions on whether or not fearmongering was an effective marketing tactic. While the #Truth campaign was incredibly effective in preventing America’s youth from smoking, D.A.R.E. actually had the opposite of intended effects — with drug-use rates in students who participated in the program far exceeding students who didn’t participate.
So the question is posed — does fearmongering work? And should digital marketing specialists rely on this avenue for their own promotional endeavors? The best answer is no, but sometimes yes.
When Is Fearmongering Appropriate?
When it comes to subjects like tobacco use, with very real consequences, the relaying of factual information isn’t fearmongering as much as it is education. The same goes for our own efforts with the Austin Urology Institute to spread awareness of prostate cancer. When we promote information such as the fact that 80% of men who reach the age of 80 will have cancer cells in their prostate, our intention isn’t to incite fear in our audience. We are simply communicating to them a fact that many people might not know.
The problem with campaigns like D.A.R.E. and “Reefer Madness” is that they weren’t reciting factual or believable information. When you say obscene warnings like “one hit and you’ll murder your family!” and someone goes and smokes a joint, and then proceeds to sit on their couch all day, not murdering their family, you’re going to lose a little bit of authority.
On the other hand, the Truth campaign was effective because it equated smoking with selling out to the tobacco industry. It used facts about tobacco-funded propaganda to make their point. Smoking used to be for defiant badasses. They positioned it as a habit for rubes and suckers who got gamed by the industry.
While the fearmongering tactics that you see today are a little more believable and realistic, we at Rock Candy Media still believe it is a cheap, lazy, inauthentic, and ineffective way to garner attention and incite enthusiasm for your brand.
Why Fear Mongering Doesn’t Work
When you think about the spectrum of emotions, from a growth consultant point of view, it’s important to understand which ones are the most powerful. When you consider fear, you might initially think of it as a powerful emotion, however, it is not persistent. Fears are overcome all the time. While people certainly retain phobias, a fear that is placed in your head via media platforms will not bear much resilience.
Then, when you consider something like happiness, whether it be from pride or excitement, you can begin to see all the ways it can be compounded and grown upon as time passes. Sure, it may be hard to get someone really excited after one Instagram ad, but if you’re able to catch their attention, and then hit them with consistently positive and brand reinforcing content, we think that will stand the test of time longer than something that is unpleasant to think about.
Leading with Positivity
Driving a brand, whether it be a product or service, with a negative emotion has several obvious consequences. For one, you’re associating your product or service with something disagreeable. So even if your marketing and branding team decides to pursue a different promotional direction, there may still be some lingering sensations with the previously mentioned associations you’ve made.
When you lead your branding and integrated advertising strategies with a positive force, things fall into place a lot easier than you’d expect. Like we said, driving with positivity might not be able to capture the attention of your audience as sharply as it would with fearmongering, however, the former is going to be a lot easier to manage down the road.
A fearmongering approach is like a coal fire that you constantly need to shovel more fuel onto. Fuel that’s negative or unpleasant at its core. When you lead with positivity, you can imagine it as pulling away leaves or shrubs to reveal something your audience will appreciate. Publicity aside, you are the gatekeeper of how your brand looks and feels. Whatever you lead with, you’re going to have to follow or risk losing advocates and brand enthusiasts due to a lack of consistency. So make sure you’re consistently positive.
What We Lead With
At Rock Candy Media, we state facts and voice our opinions. You’ll never catch us trying to scare you into shopping a brand and you won’t see us crying wolf in the hopes that you come running. We engage audiences with authenticity and original content. The day we stop doing that is the day we stop doing our jobs as growth consultants and digital strategists. And we don’t see that day coming any time soon.
So if you’re interested in developing a direction of your own, drop us a note. We’ll see if we can’t turn your brand into something audiences can feel good about.