is a powerful motivator for consumers, and it underlies
more of our spending decisions than we’d care to
afraid of identity theft, so we buy credit monitoring.
We fear our new iPhone will break, so we buy an extended
warranty. We fear pesticides and hormones in our food,
so we buy organic. We fear bad breath and "ring
around the collar," so we buy products offering
walls and Twitter feeds can be full of well-meaning
posters warning friends and followers against the latest
dastardly health scare, money scam or tale of woe —
many of which have a consumer product or service to
alleviate the fear. Marketers have long known they can
scare consumers into buying.
— caused by a real or anticipated danger or threat —
can be a good thing.
we worry about our loved ones suffering financially if
we die, we buy life insurance, usually viewed as a
prudent personal finance component.
health ads can use fear to warn us against the hazards
of smoking tobacco or driving drunk and encourage us to
participate in pre-cancer screening.
half of women fear one day ending up a "bag
lady" — losing all their money and becoming
homeless, according to a 2013 study by Allianz Life
Insurance Co. of North America.
that means adding a few extra dollars to a retirement
plan, that might be a positive.
times, however, consumers are targets of fear-based
marketing, which may not be a good thing for their
example, many consumer advocates recommend against
buying extended warranties, and many don’t see the
value in buying identity theft protection.
soap has been shown to be of dubious value. Yet all can
be sold with fear, suggesting the purchase will protect
against some threat.
our fears and purchases are tightly linked. One recent
academic study even found that when consumers are
fearful and alone, they might turn to brands for
comfort, much as they would toward a human being.
people cope with fear through affiliation with others,
in the absence of other individuals, consumers may seek
affiliation with an available brand. This, in turn, will
enhance emotional attachment to that brand," said
the academic study published this year in the Journal of
Consumer Research by Lea Dunn, a professor at the
University of Washington, and JoAndrea Hoegg of the
University of British Columbia.
similar to a child’s attachment to a teddy bear or
blanket when things go bump in the night. Only this
study showed that consumers who go through a fearful
experience actually bond with not only an object, but
its brand. (An experiment by Dunn showed that consumers
in a "fear condition" didn’t develop an
attachment with no-name jelly beans but did with branded
sitting through a horror movie with a Diet Coke might
mean you feel more attached to the Coke brand afterward,
Dunn said in an interview.
have the ability to provide human qualities that allow
us to feel better in situations," she said.
said the relationships are not just metaphorical but
literal — that frightened people can make
psychological, personal connections to brands.
important for marketers, because consumers who feel a
strong attachment to a brand will be more loyal and pay
more, according to the study.
what can we do to limit fear’s role in purchasing
decisions that are bad for us?
AWARE: Acknowledge that fear makes us feel risk-averse
and out of control, Dunn said. So we’re more open —
perhaps vulnerable — to anything that allows us to
feel more certain.
what fear-appeal marketing exploits. It presents a
dangerous or threatening situation and offers a solution
to allay fear.
you fear a burglar in your home, you’re probably more
receptive to ads about home-security systems and
times, it’s not fear for your physical safety, but a
social fear of looking foolish, unattractive or
suffering an embarrassment. Thus, the bad-breath
we fear we might be missing out on a great deal. That’s
why limited-time sale offers can be effective.
online retailers go as far as putting countdown clocks
next to discounted merchandise to heighten anxiety.
aware they’re trying to do something emotional
here," Dunn said.
DOWN: Fear can be fleeting. Put time between the moment
you feel threatened and when you make the purchase.
way, you can make a cool-headed decision.
be pressured into a hasty choices, especially for a
major purchase. "Cognitive decision-making comes
later," Dunn said.
FACTS ABOUT THE RISK: When considering a purchase to
ease a fear, try to evaluate objectively if the risk is
really that high.
example, you might read that identity theft is the top
complaint to the Federal Trade Commission, which makes
it seem like a serious problem that might need a
commercial solution. But relatively few people lose any
money as a result, and many cases are for credit card
theft, which is relatively low hassle to fix. "Ask,
‘Is this something that will actually impact me? And
is this a solution that I need?’ " Dunn said.
of food pesticides is surely legitimate for some fruits
and vegetables, namely those the Environmental Working
Group calls the Dirty Dozen, such as apples and
avoiding them or paying extra for organics makes sense.
The same group also lists the Clean Fifteen, such as
avocados and sweet corn, which aren’t prone to
pesticide contamination and might not be worth buying as
organics. Full lists are at EWG.org.
IT WORK? Does the product or service really solve the
problem that creates the fear?
the example of identity theft. If your credit card
information was stolen in one of the many retailer data
breaches, your credit or debit card number might be
compromised — but pricey credit monitoring will not
purchases do not show up on credit reports. You should
monitor your card account statements for unfamiliar
purchases, which is free.
identity theft insurance sounds like a product that will
refund your stolen money. It’s not. It usually
reimburses you for incidental expenses you incur while
cleaning up an identity-theft incident — expenses like
postage and phone calls.
when fear encourages you to reach for your wallet, take
a moment to remember we’re all vulnerable and make
sure you’re spending smart.