Are You Scared by Content Marketing Fear Appeals?

Jun 8, 2015
Content Marketing

The Content Marketing Institute claims “fear is advertising and marketing’s great motivator”. And rightfully so, as psychologists have stipulated fear can be as important in a decision-making process as it is in survival. Are claims as significant as these enough for you to consider using fear as a tactic to prompt customers into action?

Don’t be Afraid

Using fear appeals in advertising and other traditional marketing is often associated with deception, trickery and manipulation, so you might be inclined to reject the idea of using them. Consider this; what kind of emotion does the marketing message ‘don’t miss out on this exclusive offer’ use? It uses fear, one of the most common marketing sentiments out there. It’s likely your business has communicated like this in the past without consciously trying to evoke fear.

Fear appeals in marketing don’t have to be as strong as some of the anti-smoking or ‘toxic fat’ advertisements we are frequently exposed to. Eliciting a sense of worry or anxiety still utilises fear appeal; it’s just a milder way of doing so.

It’s all about tact

In terms of actually implementing fear in your content, the key to success is being tactful. Subtlety is a common component in content marketing and it is especially useful when dealing with strong emotions such as fear.

Take our blog post about the negative impact stock photography has on your content. Instead of a fearmongering headline like,

How Stock Photography Cheapens your Business and Turns Away Customers

We used the more tactful headline,

It’s Time to Say Goodbye to the Stock Photo

Being tactful in the positioning of your content avoids the customer dismissing the information out of embarrassment or shame. It also prevents your clients from getting defensive or aggressive in the face of direct criticism

Tread Carefully

Fear is a primal response in humans and can have a huge impact on attitudes and behaviour. Because of its sizeable potential impact, there is a responsibility for marketers to use this appeal strategy wisely.

You should not over-inflate the problem at hand or make people unnecessarily fearful. We frequently see this done by beauty industries using fear appeals to make women buy products to ‘cure’ themselves of perfectly normal qualities. These companies earn themselves a bad reputation for using fear in a manipulative, self-promoting way. Especially in the content marketing world where consumers value trust and reliability, these perceptions can be extremely detrimental to a company.

Similarly, be careful of using fear appeals for services that bring hope and inspiration to your customers. Fear will negate these offerings and be harmful to your brand.

If you want advice about what emotional appeals to use in your content, contact us. We create content marketing strategies for businesses of all kinds.


By Carla Young


Image Credits: Fear of the Dark by Stuart Anthony at Flickr.