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From Chapter 2: HOW TO GET INSIDE THEIR HEADS:
The 17 Foundational Principles of Consumer Psychology
Principle #1: The Fear Factor-Selling the scare
FACT: Your home is a cesspool filled with hundreds of strains of evil bacteria waiting to infect your innocent child as he crawls along the kitchen floor, sticking plastic toy blocks into his mouth. Don't laugh. Did you know that one single bacteria cell explodes into more than 8 million cells in less than 24 hours? And that invisible microbes of all kinds can cause everything from athlete's foot to diarrhea, the common cold to the flu...... meningitis... pneumonia... sinusitis... skin diseases... strep throat... tuberculosis... urinary tract infections and a lot more.
The solution? Lysol® Disinfectant Spray. It quickly kills 99.9%* of germs on commonly touched surfaces throughout the home. And it's only about $5 a can.
FACT: No matter how often you wash your sheets, your bed is an insect breeding ground, teeming with thousands of hideous, crab-like dust mites aggressively laying eggs in your pillow and mattress, causing you and your family to suffer year-long allergy attacks. While you sleep, they actually wake up and start to crawl... eat your skin flakes... and drink the moisture on your flesh. It gets worse. Did you know that 10% of the weight of a two-year old pillow is actually dead mites and their feces? This means that every night you and your family are sleeping in the equivalent of an insect's toilet, actually covered in a mélange of both their living and dead bodies and "oceans" of their bitter excrement.
The solution? Bloxem® anti-mite mattress covers and pillow cases help reduce allergy symptoms associated with dust mite infestation. The special fabric's tightly crafted pores don't allow microscopic mites to enter your mattress... nest... and breed. Your family enjoys a more peaceful night's rest. And they're so affordable. Bloxem anti-mite mattress covers are just $60, and pillow cases are less than $10 each. They're available from dozens of fine internet retailers.
FACT: Your dog could be the next victim of the horrible groomer's noose! This hangman-like contraption is designed to keep Fluffy on the table while she's getting her haircut. It's perfectly safe... that is, if she doesn't step off the edge! One wrong step and she'd snap her neck like an old-west bandit swinging from branches of the hangman's tree.
The solution? Call Vanity 'n Fur groomers... where we use loving kindness to beautify your doggie, never dangerous mechanical contraptions-like the groomer's noose-that other less-experienced groomers risk using everyday.
Bottom line? Fear sells. It motivates. It urges. It moves people to action. It drives them to spend money. In fact, social psychologists and consumer researchers have been studying its effects for more than 50 years. Whether it's selling a loaf of bread which hardly seems scary (until you show them studies reporting that refined white flour may cause cancer), or painting a picture of doom and gloom about the insidious nature of odorless carbon monoxide creeping through their air conditioning vents and wiping out their family (while they're sleeping safely in a hotel on a business trip)... properly constructed, fear can move people to spend.
But why does it work? In a word: stress. Fear causes stress. And stress causes the desire to do something. Missing a big sale causes the stress of loss. Choosing the right tires can cause the stress of concern for personal safety. Not opting for the side-curtain airbags in your new car causes the stress of future regret and visions of physical injury. Fear suggests loss. Fear paints a picture of necessary response. It tells your prospect that he or she will be somehow "damaged." This threatens the ego's continuous quest for self-preservation. Therefore, the threat of being "damaged" is insidious and powerful.
Can you use it for your products and services? Yes... if your product offers the appropriate solution for a fearful situation. But is it ethical? Yes, but only if what you're selling offers a truly effective solution. Certain products can quell fears. And there's nothing wrong with promoting-and profiting from them.
"Oh, Drew... that's so manipulative! Scaring people to buy! How could you?"
If you thought or said the above, please read my Introduction again at the beginning of this book. I said that if using persuasion and influence scares you, you should stop reading. That's because there aren't enough pages in this book-nor is it my intention-to try to convince you of the morality of using a fear appeal.
I mean, what could I possibly say to convince you that it's okay to use fear when selling your brake pad replacement service? (Isn't it obvious?) Or life insurance? Home smoke detectors? Cancer insurance? The mere mention of these things-to me, anyway-conjures up fearful situations that require some form of self-protection. If that form of self-protection presents itself via an advertiser who happens to be selling a product that can save my life... prevent pain... or otherwise help me better deal with an unpleasant situation, then I welcome it. I have no problem being informed, and swiftly moved to take caution. Do you?
Bottom line: if it's possible to use fear to effectively sell a product or service, it means that inherent in that product or service is the possible resolution to that which is feared. If not, no matter how much fear you try to conjure up, your fear appeal will fail miserably. Make sense?
The four-step recipe for inducing fear
Okay, so you've determined that your product or service can genuinely alleviate a real fear-producing problem and is a good candidate for using the fear appeal. In order to make it work, there's a specific, 4-ingredient recipe you must follow.
In their study, Age of Propaganda (2001), Pratkanis and Aronson argue that, "the fear appeal is most effective when:
(1) It scares the hell out of people,
(2) It offers a specific recommendation for overcoming the fear-aroused
(3) The recommended action is perceived as effective for reducing the
(4) The message recipient believes that he or she can perform the
The success or failure of this strategy relies on the existence of all four components. Remove any one of them, and it's like building your own computer and leaving out the hard drive. No matter how much you want it to work, it simply won't compute!
What's more, if you create too much fear, you could actually scare someone to inaction, like a deer, staring frozen into the headlights of an oncoming SUV. Fear can paralyze. And it will motivate your prospect to act only if he believes he has the power to change his situation. That means in order to craft an effective fear appeal, your ad must contain specific, believable recommendations for reducing the threat that are both credible and achievable.
For example, let's say you own a karate school and you're selling self-defense training. You can teach people to walk even the roughest streets with the confidence of a trained bodyguard, ready to counter even the most vicious attacks by the scariest (and ugliest) thugs walking the earth.
Fact is, you need to do more than simply present gruesome crime stats. You must also convince your prospect that it's within her ability-using your system-to fight off an attacker using her bare hands. Ignore this vital step, and all you've accomplished is scaring her. You must also convince her, using factors that boost credibility (testimonials... video demonstrations... free lessons and other believability boosters that we'll discuss later), and open her mind to the possibility that your claim is true and that she really can enjoy the benefits you're promising. (She wants to believe you because you're making an appealing claim. It's your job to help her believe you, and that takes more than simply shouting "boo!")
The fear appeal is also more successful if the fears targeted are specific and widely recognized. It's a lot easier to sell your sunscreen because everyone knows the sun can fry you like bacon and turn your skin into a melanoma factory. It's much tougher to sell laundry detergent that helps prevent ultraviolet damage to clothing. Why? Because few people are concerned with UV laundry damage. When's the last time this issue kept you awake? While the fear is specific (damage to clothing), it's certainly not widely recognized.
Listen: your goal is not to create new fears, but to tap into existing fears, either those on the forefront of consumers' minds... or those that require a little digging to uncover.
For example, take what I affectionately call "germ gel." You may know it as Purell Instant Hand Sanitizer, the leading brand. I don't go anywhere without it. In fact, if I leave the house and forget my small bottle, I'm thrown into somewhat of a panic. Why is this? GOJO Industries-the company that manufactures the germ-quashing goop-first introduced Purell to the food service and healthcare industries in 1988. Thinking back to that time-and even before-I don't recall ever feeling "creeped out" about touching things in public the way I do today. Sure, I was always health conscious. I always washed my hands before eating and throughout the day as needed. I knew germs existed everywhere. And yet, the "need" to keep my hands relatively germ-free was simply not a concern back then. It wasn't on the forefront of my mind.
Jump ahead to 1997, when Purell hit the consumer market. Aha! Did you know that unwashed hands are the leading cause of food contamination in restaurants? Hand washing? What a joke! A 2003 survey sponsored by the American Society of Microbiology (ASM) found that many people passing through major U.S. airports don't wash their hands after using the public facilities. More than 30% of people using restrooms in New York airports, 19% of those in Miami's airport, and 27% of air travelers at Chicago O'Hare aren't stopping to wash their hands. In a phone survey the same year conducted by Wirthlin Worldwide, only 58% of people say they wash their hands after sneezing or coughing and only 77% say they wash their hands after changing a diaper.