Selling Fear

Fear is an extremely potent tool. We know enough about how politics power equations use it. I’m sure a million examples have popped up into your head already.

Today, let’s talk not of those examples but of how wherever you are being sold a peroduct or service, how, more often than not, they sell it through this very tool; Fear. I don’t claim to be able to write anything new here today though I do hope this leaves you with something to think about.

Research in management, economics and psychology have proven that the market runs on many needs. All three of these disciplines even have the Maslow’s hierarchy of needs pyramid to show us just how. There is one thing that the pyramid seems to be built on, which is left unsaid. Unsaid and not unknown for the experts certainly know of it but are not fond of talking of it.

One of the biggest, if not the biggest way of selling is through advertisements. These could be ads in print, on radio, in TV, on YouTube, on Music and Video Streaming services, on Insta and FB or anywhere else.

Given how much effect these ads are likely to have and the amount of money spent by companies in putting the ads out there, it is not difficult to see how much thought must go into each ad and the message it wishes to send across.

Keeping that in mind, take a few minutes and think back on or go through the following categories of products. (The pictures have been cropped to ensure no brand gets named and the intent is not to target any brand or company at all)



Engine Oil

Baby products



Linen and Home Decor

Tea and coffee

Given the context of the write-up, we all can see the common thread in all of the above. Each of these can be summed up in a variation of the line “You don’t want ‘X’to happen to you so use our product ‘Y'”. This X may be bad health, being made to pay more than necessary, loss of value of money etc.

But wait a second, this is me having chosen specific categories and ads. What of happier things such as party places, soda and chips, gaming consoles and family dinner places. Those aren’t governed by fear at all, are they?

Take a minute and think of the most common use of the word fear (apart from politics and phobias) you’ve been hearing these days. An abbreviation that seems to be everywhere today. This is FOMO (Fear of Missing Out). While it certainly focusses on a certain age group(s), as you’ll notice, so do the ads of the above mentioned products and services.

The happy ads of people partying and having a good time make you think of wishing to be there or enjoy in a similar fashion. You just don’t want to miss using a product everyone seems to be preferring when partying, do you? Or as a reader you don’t want to miss the chance of getting to read when and where you want, in the comfort you so deserve. You can’t miss the chance to get a reader app/ tablet or that comfy ambience lamp, can you?

Concepts, days, services, it’s everywhere. “Don’t miss out on your me time by using __”, “This __ day don’t forget to connect with so and so using our service”, “Be visible to your clients with our __”, “Don’t let your child miss out on __” and so on and so forth.

The examples I’ve taken are far from subtle. You and I both know that. As I think I said, I wish to leave you with a thought. The more you notice the more likely you will see this priming effort by the ads all around you. Don’t let the fear catch you unnecessarily. It’s the unsaid most used trick in their book.