Scare Tactics in Advertising – Are They Effective?

“People would rather die than change their behavior.”

 . You know that commercial where a home gets robbed? And all of the sudden you are sitting there wondering if you need to get an alarm system, or if you’re safe at all? Scare tactics in advertising aren’t anything new, but their frequency and intensity seem to be on the rise as of late. Are they effective? Are they overkill? Read on as we dive into scare tactics and decide for yourself if you think they’re showing the realities of life, or if they’re sensationalizing for the sake of fear.

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The Center for Disease Control (CDC), (known for their use of scare tactics when it comes to urging people to quit smoking) believes the scene of a former smoker with a hole in his throat and a device to help him speak will be the end-all to tobacco use. Not so fast. Yes, it’s a great idea, but in an article by Prevention First, the use of scare tactics has little to no effect on actually changing people’s behavior long-term. So why won’t people change after seeing the life-changing adverse impact of bad habits? Many reasons:

  • Viewers are in denial that their behavior is like that of the character in the ad.
  • Messages that have an emphasis on guilt, tension, or anxiety often sway the audience to ignore or minimize the importance of negative information.
  • Scare tactics can give the viewer a sense of powerlessness- “I can’t control that, so why bother?”
  • Younger audiences have a “that won’t happen to me” attitude.
  • Messages can trigger the opposite desired effect in risk-taking individuals (they don’t like to be told what to do or how to think).

Fear is a four letter word that brands should probably avoid when it comes to advertising. Rather than scaring off the audience, try some of these alternatives:

  • Go for a lighter approach- figure out how to be supportive towards the consumer and find a way to help them conquer their challenges.
  • Show the audience how their life can improve with your product (or without a bad-for-you product).
  • Offer creative solutions to the problem rather than just presenting the problem.
  • Be a helpful resource to your audience and figure out how your product can improve their daily lives.
  • Present just the facts and let your target draw their own conclusions.

In advertising, the image and feeling a brand portrays is significant. A fear tactic may be remembered as a negative reflection of that brand and can turn the audience off. There are often various approaches to creating great advertising for any brand, but we recommend steering clear of fear-driven methods.