Fear appeal in advertising

ADVERTISING MANAGEMENT Topic: FEAR APPEAL IN ADVERTISING Sanjana Ahuja Section B Roll Number – 18143 USE OF FEAR APPEAL IN ADVERTISING Whether it is the fear of a receding hairline or of the body odor, whether it is the fear of aging or of social stigma – the advertising industry has been seeking to tap into these fears and many more with the aim propelling people to adopt, continue, discontinue or avoid a specified course of thought or action. However, the use of fear appeal in advertising has not been without debate.

The debate has ranged from the effectiveness of the appeal as an action inducing strategy to the appropriateness of its use in the broader context of societal welfare, from what are the levels of fear that an advertisement can and should tap into to whether different demographic clusters have differing responses to the fear appeal. Consensus regarding these debates, however, continues to evade the advertising industry. The use of fear appeals in advertising is more or less synonymous with social awareness campaigns.

So whether it is the anti tobacco advertisements or the save the environment advertisements, these advertisements usually seek to incite fear in the audience with the aim of inciting them to take some action. But the use of fear in advertising goes much beyond these social awareness campaigns to include categories such as personal care products, home care products and many more. But in such categories, the idea of fear may not be as overt. For instance, an advertisement showing a young boy facing rejection from the girl he likes on account of his bad breath plays on the fear of rejection that many young boys harbour.

The advertisement aims to propel these young boys to purchase a particular brand of toothpaste in order to avoid such undesirable scenarios. The psychological process ultimately leading up to the desired action comprises of arousal. Arousal is imperative for any kind of change in individual behavior to occur and the arousal in case of fear appeal can take the form of energy as well as anxiety. Advertisements with fear appeal create tension in the minds of the audience. This tension generates energy but only up to a certain point beyond which it starts developing into anxiety which eventually ends up depleting energy.

Arousal in the form of energy is obviously more effective in achieving the desired action from the target audience than arousal in the form of anxiety. In the article “ Fear Appeals in Print Advertising: An Analysis of Arousal and Ad Response”, the authors emphasize the importance of advertisers letting go of their intuition while deciding on the fear levels in the advertisement and instead adopting proper research to ensure that the stimulus results in energy generation rather than anxiety.

An important differentiating point between advertisements using positive appeals and those using negative appeals such as fear is that the former does not entail a deliberate attempt to arouse tension in the audience though it may end up doing so. But this is mainly a consequence of the presentation of the products want satisfying attributes in the advertisement. However, the response to the fear approach adopted by advertisements varies among different categories of people.

In the article “ Fear Appeal Effects in the Field: A Segmentation Approach”, the authors state that the response of people to fear instilling advertisements can be generalized as per the segmentation approaches of personality, usage and socioeconomic segmentation. In case of personality, self esteem has received a lot of scholarly attention and the studies conducted show self esteem to be negatively related to the level of expressed fear. In case of usage, Low Relevance Hypothesis by Ray-Wilkie is important.

The hypothesis states that non-ownership equals low relevance and low relevance is associated with greater responsiveness to fear appeal. On similar lines, authors in the article “ Fear: The Potential of an Appeal Neglected by Marketing” state that fear appeal is most effective on those who do not see themselves as a part of the market for the recommended product or brand and so, fear appeals prove to be more successful in creating new segments rather than selling to the old ones.

Socioeconomic segmentation, however, has not received as much critical scrutiny as per the authors of “ Fear Appeal Effects in the Field: A Segmentation Approach”. But studies by Haefner and Singer seem to suggest that fear appeals work better with lower socioeconomic classes than the upper ones. Thus, different categories of people have different thresholds beyond which energy starts getting replaced by anxiety and this anxiety has undesirable consequences for the action that is desired by the advertiser.

But the repercussions can move far beyond and this is where the ethical dimension to the whole discussion regarding the use of fear appeal comes in. The ethical questions that get thrown up are whether such advertisements can lead to an increase the general anxiety levels in the society, whether anxiety does actually get reduced after purchasing and using the product and what happens if the proposed solution does not have an clear cut effect on the issue it claims to cure.

This last bit is particularly significant since the use of fear appeal may create false expectations in the minds of the audience, non-fulfillment of which may increase the anxiety levels. Another important point to be noted is that fear appeals may also play a role in perpetuating the existence of adverse social norms. For instance, driving an old car is a social stigma may be the theme of an advertisement of a car intending to play on the emotion of fear related to social stigma. This advertisement may make the social stigma attached to driving an old car more widespread than it actually might be.

In conclusion, it can be said that adopting the strategy of fear for advertisements effectively requires the advertiser to answer a lot of questions ranging from the appropriate levels of fear for their target audience to the broader social consequences of using this appeal. However, there exists no exact formula for answering these questions. Consistent results with regard to fear appeals evade the industry and so, a lot of discretion has to be exercised on the part of the advertiser but this discretion must be backed by sound research.

XXX REFERENCES – 1. Do We Really Know the Effects of Using ” Fear” Appeals by Herbert Kay 2. Fear Appeal Effects in the Field: A Segmentation Approach by John J. Burnett and Richard L. Oliver 3. Fear Appeals in Marketing. A Social Perspective by Homer E. Spence and Reza Moinpour 4. Fear: The Potential of an Appeal Neglected by Marketing by Michael L. Ray and William L. Wilkie 5. Fear Appeals in Print Advertising: An Analysis of Arousal and Ad Response by Tony L. Henthorne, Michael S. LaTour, Rajan Nataraajan