You have an important message. Your message needs to be heard. You want to change the world… make a difference, but how? We are constantly being bombarded with advertisements in our day-to-day life. How do you cut through the noise of the everyday and make a message really stick?
Do you pull together the best designers and advertisers to come up with something unique and influential? Do you call up your favourite celebrity and have them spruik your message to their multitudes of fans?
No, you don’t.
You go straight for the jugular… yes, you heard right. You scare the living daylights out of your audience to make a lasting impression.
Fear is a powerful motivator! It can be very persuasive and is commonly used by advertisers to encourage their audience to change their behaviour. Generally speaking, this tactic works best with awareness campaigns for issues such as health, safety, politics and the environment.
Who could forget the chilling Grim Reaper 1987 AIDS Campaign? The campaign launched with a prime-time television commercial featuring The Grim Reaper bowling over terrified human pins in an underworld bowling alley and no one was safe.
The commercial taught us that HIV/AIDS is a widespread epidemic that didn’t discriminate. Men, women, children and even babies were at risk. The follow-up campaign emphasised that prevention is the only cure and was distributed through popular marketing channels such as television, newspapers, cinemas, magazines and radio.
An unprecedented 97% of people surveyed were aware of The Grim Reaper campaign, suggesting that HIV/AIDS was at the forefront of the public mind. People believed that The Grim Reaper was responsible for increased awareness and behavioural changes. The campaign had prompted public debate and the desire for more information.
While fear campaigns are a popular marketing strategy, not everyone agrees they are the best tactic. Some argue that using fear to promote a cause may do more harm than good. The Grim Reaper HIV/AIDS awareness campaign was extremely successful at getting attention, but was largely criticised for scaremongering, exaggeration and frightening children. So, the challenge is: how do you voice your message in a way that makes people want to change their behaviour or take action without crossing the line?
Today, it’s difficult to escape fear-inducing messages. One of the most common is the anti-smoking campaign. The evidence on the effectiveness of fear appeals is mixed but I’m sure everyone can recall at least one anti-smoking advertisement. The aim of many of these campaigns is to discourage undesirable behaviour, namely, smoking. Anti-smoking advertisements usually take the form of a showcase; they feature real-life smokers who have had serious health issues due to their habit. These ads are generally accompanied by frightening statistics and display the physical side effects and damage smoking can cause, no matter how gruesome.
According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, smoking is recognised as the ‘largest single preventable cause of death and disease in Australia’ (AMA 2005). About one-fifth of people 18 years and over were smokers in 2007, this number has decreased down from 23% in 2005 and 24% in 2001. A factor they attribute to the ‘high level of investment in anti-smoking campaigns’ (Australian Bureau of Statistics 2010).
So there you have it. It is proven that fear mongering and scare tactics make a lasting impression on their audience, increasing the rate of behavioural change and increased awareness.
In your opinion, do fear campaigns work? How do marketers promote awareness without crossing the line of social acceptability? Do fear campaigns have an impact on you? Please feel free to share you thoughts and comments in the comment section below.
Winn, M 1991. ‘AIDS prevention through health promotion : facing sensitive issues’, Geneva : World Health Organization, retrieved 5 May 2015 <http://apps.who.int/iris/handle/10665/41459>
Manyiwaa, S & Brennanb, R 2012. ‘Fear appeals in anti-smoking advertising: How important is self-efficacy?’, Journal of Marketing Management, Volume 28, Issue 11-12, 2012, retrieved 6 May 2015
Robles, H, A 2012. ‘Fear Appeals Used in Anti-Smoking Campaigns’, Applied Social Psychology (ASP), retrieved 6 May 2015 <http://www.personal.psu.edu/bfr3/blogs/asp/2012/04/fear-appeals-used-in-anti-smoking-campaigns.html>
Australian Bureau of Statistics 2010. ‘1370.0 – Measures of Australia’s Progress, Health, Smoking, retrieved 7 May 2015 nsf/Lookup/by%20Subject/1370.0~2010~Chapter~Smoking%20%2184.108.40.206.1%29>