Fear reigns supreme in our lives. We are programmed to be afraid throughout our lives starting from a very young age. If you don’t study you will fail. If you fail you will be reduced to working menial jobs. There are still other fears in our life while we are still young. If you make faces at elders your face will freeze in that pose. If you want to play outside when your mother doesn’t want you to, some old man will kidnap you. These are some of the warnings our parents and elders have given us. This fear continues with marketing companies using fear tactic marketing to make us buy things we may not a
Although most of the examples have some logic to it and the last one has become true in the past few years, it is very obvious that being afraid and scaring others is normal behaviour. I am sure that there is an official survey that shows that most tricks played on April fool’s day are related to fear.
Fear Definition :
fear (v): to feel afraid; to feel worried; to feel that something bad might happen.
As a person who looks at everything from a marketing perspective, I understand all events as marketing activities. A boy trying to influence his father that he needs to go on a school picnic even though he didn’t do well in the last exam. A bully pushing others out of the way while entering class or a mother being strict to her child to switch off the television. In this piece we will concentrate on acts done by a group of people. The group of people could be a company, a political party, institutes or even organised religion.
The amygdala and our reactions
I first heard about the amygdala from Seth Godin, a famous marketing person. It should be no surprise to anyone that humans have survived because we are good at being scared. At the first expectation of trouble we scram. The amygdala is a collection of cells in the brain where our emotions are stored. It’s considered to be a part of the limbic system and processes emotions like fear and pleasure. The limbic system is part of the brain that controls memory, senses and triggers behavioral responses.
The amygdala prompts a couple of behaviours in response to fear. These responses are to face the situation or run from it. Fight or flight. The frontal lobes of the brain helps us to logically process situations. However, sometimes the fear, stress and anxiety levels can be so strong that our amygdala can hijack the situation making you react in a certain way. The stimulus may not even be physical. Emotional simulation includes news, a conversation, a memory or even a smell that triggers a memory can evoke fear.
Fear Marketing – What’s that?
So when a group of people who want something from you know and know how you react to certain stimuli, that includes events and keywords they can use these reactions to their advantage. Let’s look at how marketing tactics exploit the fears in our life.
Fear Based Marketing Tactics
The strategy of offering a solution to fears and insecurities is fear based marketing tactics. As I mentioned earlier I count everything that I have listed here as marketing. However, here I have separated products and services with things that we usually don’t count as marketing i.e. religion and education. Although come to think of it, everyone has to sell.
Fear in Advertising and Marketing in Life Insurance
Zindagi ke saath bhi zindagi ke baad bhi, says a life insurance advertisement. They don’t want you to abandon your family even after you leave your body behind. When you think about fear based marketing, the first and easiest example that comes to mind is life insurance. Life insurance marketing strategies include telling us that we may die suddenly some day and not leave a respectable life for our next of kin. They sell us an amount we can bequeath our immediate family. Of course we need to pay for it every month.
Health insurance marketing strategies
Similarly, health insurance marketing ideas try to scare us with unexpected illnesses and accidents. Instead of suddenly being faced with big hospitalisation expenses, you should pay your premium regularly. The insurance company will come to your rescue during your bad times. When you do go to these guys they will increase your premium amount based on your age, lifestyle, and previous medical problems, so you have to just make them rich while living in the comfort that they will help you one day.
Pharmaceutical Fear Based marketing strategies
One of the biggest fears in our life is health and if health is an issue, will pharmaceuticals be far behind? Pharmaceutical is another space where fear based marketing works it’s magic. Covid 19 is one example of scaring the public to a point where any cure can be welcomed and we are waiting for a vaccine to be made. The world health organisation (WHO) has been telling people to wear masks, keep safe distance, and be in quarantine if you believe you have symptoms. Not that this is wrong advice. But the information regarding the disease itself is so limited that governments have imposed lock downs nationally. People are buying masks and sanitizers everyday.
Scare tactics by doctors
Medicines and doctors are synonymous. Doctors earn their livelihood through health fears in our life. The appendix can rupture, the tumor can turn active, thousands of tests maybe needed to confirm the fatal disease you may have. All the extremes are possible unless doctors say otherwise. If the doctor is a surgeon then surgery becomes necessary. He will explain how your knees need replacement, or your eyes or some other part of your body. Doctors will also advise you to get yourself and your dear ones vaccinated for viruses.
Fear will sell vaccines
Similarly, vaccines are supposed to help you fight diseases that you may have in the future. Although some vaccines are definitely necessary to eradicate fatal diseases, many doctors recommend vaccines by accentuating the harmful effects of a disease and not really explaining how much you are prone to contract them. The H1N1 virus, the Ebola, Swine Flu, and Bird Flu are names of some viruses that keep popping up time and again and we have been told time and again to get vaccinated on an immediate basis if we wish to survive. Some time ago schools in India had made it compulsory for students to get vaccinated for Rubella virus if they wanted to sit in class.
Long term and lifestyle diseases you need to keep paying for
Other health problems including diabetes and blood pressure also are a continuous expense. Please don’t think I am encouraging you to discontinue your medication. All I am saying is that when people tell you to push yourself to succeed and be happy and be a millionaire they don’t tell you that while pursuing your dreams you could fall prey to these lifestyle diseases.
Lifestyle problems including depression, anxiety, backaches, obesity are prevalent in almost everyone. And yes you have doctors, therapists and medication specializing in that too.
Healthy food and diet
But these are not the only products and services that sell with the help of fear. There are healthy foods and diets that are sold to you to boost your health and now boosting immunity has become a trend. Good supplements for children so that they grow tall and healthy or become smart or not catch viruses from others have been sold for a long time.
Selling products to soothe your inferiority complex
Expensive products are sold so that you keep up with the Joneses or the Malhotras. Cars and bikes that give you good mileage do not let you down in the middle of nowhere and luxury cars and watches always redeem your honour in front of snobbish rich people.
Fear mongering in politics
Politics has become the latest trending occupation to become exceedingly rich. People are willing to cement their images as warriors of some cause so that people follow them. There are many causes to fight and gain attention. Environment issues, religion, nationalism, caste, nativity and language. We’ve seen and even witnessed arguments and even orchestrated riots for issues and problems that could easily be solved across the table. However, the fear based marketing in politics is so strong that it brainwashes people into believing that the other side is not worth your time in explaining and discussing. This has happened throughout history that leaders have made sure their followers don’t even listen to the other side.
It may be politics, but what are the people doing? In the age of the internet and quick news when truth should have prevailed people do not want to acknowledge the truth or is it that people simply don’t trust it. People in cities don’t trust anything. In our fast lives when we see somebody lying on the road after an accident, we are okay watching him die. These days we may even video graph him, but not help him. That is because one of the biggest fears in our life is getting tangled into police problems. Nobody trusts the police – the upholders of law. You go to the police when no other way is left.
Rape victims, domestic violence they are particularly afraid of the police-politician nexus. Maybe the police will turn the whole thing on its head. If the perpetrator has political connections then God help you! We have seen in recent times that rape victims have been accused of abetting the crime against them and the rape has been suggested as their fault.
Case Study – Politics of nativity
A well known Hindi TV News anchor recently pointed out something interesting. He felt that North Indian people are very aggressive. They fight at the traffic signal, for spare change and little things often overlooked in other parts of the country.
So North Indians are aggressive, but are they bad? They are corrupt, that goes without saying. They are used to bribing their way out of everything. Similarly, everything is fair as long as they have the advantage or profit. However, a Mumbai person would identify a North Indian by character traits such as opportunists who do not mind working in a low position. Rapes, robberies, murders and dacoities are just normal parts of a North Indian day. They are people who will grab every opportunity to get ahead of their employers and people who helped them. In other words a Maharashtrian will never trust a North Indian. How many times have you heard a North Indian person was working as a menial labour or a peon, but now has his own business and an apartment in Mumbai?
These character traits could be of anyone, anywhere in the world, but it was flouted a lot in Maharashtra by a political party. Years ago they targeted North Indians as people who were taking over Mumbai and Maharashtra. The aim of course was to win the elections. Such fear based marketing campaigns were used later by the same party against South Indians and Muslims.
Fear campaigns against the ‘other’ people are quite common in politics. Similar fear campaigns have been used all over the world. The Mexicans are coming. Muslims will take over your country. An ethnic or religious group will increase population by breeding like rabbits and your religion is in danger. These are some of the fear campaigns that have been used successfully by politicians.
Education marketing and the fear of failure
Apart from ‘get educated’ or ‘end up like Abdul bhai puncture wala’ or ‘Raju the tea stall wala’ there are other fears in our life regarding society and education. Higher education marketing strategies include, everyone is doing an MBA, Engineering or Medicine. That’s where the real money lies.
For younger children a question has arisen that – is your child learning to code? It’s the next thing that will take over the world. Is your child part of the revolution or will he be left behind? These trends are like fashion and parts of society will ask their youth to become software engineers or doctors or MBAs.
Parents usually urge their children to become what they have done. My friend forced his son to choose commerce in college although the son wanted to be an artist.
Faith based marketing
Religion is one of the oldest fear mongering, profit making businesses in the world. Heaven, hell, destiny marriage and everything you can think about revolves around religion. If a certain god becomes angry you could fall into trouble and rot in hell for eternity.
Close to religion is the lifestyle for success. How to achieve success? How to find the right girl? How to make money and how to have a happy family life? There are new age gurus who will teach you everything. Many lifestyle gurus come in the garb of a religious person because religion is a big part of Indian life. We have seen a recent phenomenon where a religious guru became popular through Yoga and is now a top billionaire selling everything under the sun. There have been high profile arrests also in this regard.
Organised body of people has always been able to feed on your fears. They usually dangle your fear in front of you to make you spend money to save yourself. Everybody is scared of something. You need to know the fear of the other person to take advantage of him or make him take an action in your favour. The aim of this piece is to make you realise your fears and weigh all possibilities before taking a decision in your favour.