Fear In Advertising


I recently read a post by a very perspicacious WordPress blogger. It was about the power of curiosity to motivate. It got me to thinking. Really good writing and really good posts do that to me.

My husband and I haven’t watched broadcast television in a very long time. We don’t stream either. We get very little exposure to commercials. We do still see ads on the games we play and the articles we read online though. My point is that we don’t get a lot of exposure to the fear mongering that was prevalent in television commercials years ago. I consider that to be a good thing because I figure it is ongoing.

I do still have memories of sitting in front of the TV and ranting to my poor husband about this offensive commercial and the next one. Mostly he would hear me saying things like, “How stupid do they think we are?’ or “I can’t believe they just tried to put that over on us.” There would usually be a few “oh my Gods” thrown in for good measure and a swear word or two … or three or four.

I hate that advertisers feel they have to use fear in order to motivate a person to buy a certain product. Unfortunately, it seems to work. The list of fears seems to be endless. Here are a few:

Fear of damp spots in your armpits. Antiperspirants really are not good for you.

Fear that your house will smell like your house and not like a spring morning.

Fear that your freshly washed laundry will smell like freshly washed laundry and not like some chemist’s idea of a delightful scent.

Fear that you will miss out on something wonderful. I see this more in stores or ads that say they are for a limited time only or that supplies are limited. It might be the truth. Cynical me thinks not. I will admit though, that the Pandemic has made some things scarce.

Fear of germs … this one particularly vexes me. We humans have lived with microbes for a very, very long time. Most of them are not out to get us or do us harm. Really.

Fear that the car you are currently driving is not maybe the absolutely safest car to be driving … here look, we have one that is very safe. No car is absolutely safe to drive. Get over it.

Fear that your teeth are not white enough.  I mean, are you really going to lose friends because your teeth are a little bit less than perfectly white? If so, maybe what you really need are some new friends. And anyway, bleaching your teeth really is not good for them in the long run. That’s a personal opinion. “They” say that having a dentist do it is okay.

Sadly, in reality, fear mongering in advertising has been going on for a long time. As an example, Listerine was first developed as a wound cleaner in the late 1800s. It was touted as being particularly useful for wounds in the mouth where ointments and creams were not practical. But the product didn’t really catch on until it was marketed as a cure for bad breath. Early print ads depict a woman and a man standing close, face-to-face, and looking happy, while another woman sits alone looking sad and the implication was that the lone woman had bad breath and that Listerine could fix her right up.

The infamous “they” have done studies in which they have determined that most decisions are made based on emotions. Find an individual with a part of the brain that is responsible for emotions having been damaged so that the person no longer experiences emotions and sit them down at a table with a form to be signed and a choice of pens with which to sign it and they will not be able to sign the form because they have to choose which pen to use. Take away all but one pen and voila! They can then sign the form.

Decisions to buy one product over another are made based on emotions … unfortunately. So fear mongering in advertising is probably never going away. That means we have to be vigilant and careful and look rationally at the crap that is fed to us in all sorts of ads. I think the video ads do the most damage. Light, sound, movement can all be very compelling.

Or do what we did and just stop watching them. And look at print ads with a very jaundiced eye, as the saying goes.

Oh! But wait! Then you might miss out on the next and best new thing. OMG!

shamm.medium.com This is one of the early Listerine ads.
medium.com This is the ad I mentioned in my post.

Published by Dianne Lehmann

I'm a writer. But I'm also a wife and a mom to a couple of fur babies. You could call me a cook (but never a chef, I'm not that good) and provisioner as well. Laundress? Yeah. Probably. I design jewelry and I crochet. But mostly I love to write. I love words and how they sound. I love their meanings and origins. I love stringing them together. And of course, I love to read. Thinking about it just now, I realize that what I love most is life and the people around me with a special place set aside for my wonderful husband, our adorable dog and our inscrutable cat. It's the world and the people in it that fuels my writing. So thanks to you all for being the amazing beings that you are.

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