Scare people

Scare people if you have the solution. Make people afraid, then show them how to remove that fear using your product.

Examples

  • Listerine mouthwash popularized the obscure medical term halitosis to invoke fear of bad breath
  • Lifebuoy soap made the term B.O. (body odor) famous in order to sell a solution.
  • Taser resorts to videos of masked intruders to reinforce the threat and images of people answering their front doors brandishing the weapon to emphasize the solution.
Taser web site showing woman answering the door brandishing a stun gun

Taser like to scare you before showing you their solution

Principles

The social psychologists Anthony Pratkanis and Elliot Aronson suggest,”All other things being equal, the more frightened a person is by a communication, the more likely he or she is to take positive preventive action.”

Why do people fall for this type of fear-mongering? Research into prejudice by Gordon Hodson and Michael Busseri suggests that people who have difficulty grasping the complexity of the world might tend toward prejudice and conservatism because they find it too hard to interact with people not like themselves and because they like the structure and simplicity provided by socially conservative ideologies.

How to scare people into action

  • Ensure you have all three ingredients: the anger-inducing threat, a convincing recommendation for dealing with that anger, and an action that people can take right now.
    • Make it clear who the enemy is and how unlike the audience this enemy behaves. “The French don’t believe that we should go to war against Iraq. What kind of American allies are they?
    • Show what this enemy is doing. Make it clear how bad this thing is. Potentially project to a future state in which the bad thing has occurred in a highly inflated way, and how bad this situation would be for the audience. “How can we possible maintain world peace unless we fight Iraq? Everyone knows it has weapons of mass destruction. America(n interests) could be at risk! Think of the children!
    • Show how the audience can prevent the enemy from winning by taking an action. The action should, if possible, require minimum effort and be instantly achievable and gratifying. “Stick it to the French. Only eat at places that have relabeled French Fries as Freedom Fries.

Pour les Français: Je m’excuse pour les folies d’un petit groupe de mes compatriotes. Je sais que les «Frites Français» sont vraiment belges.

Blog posts about this pattern