Merchants Of Fear

The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear. –H.P. Lovecraft

It’s 8 am and you wake up to a loud pounding at your door.  Your not expecting anyone at your home at this hour so your internal alarms automatically go off.  You know the feeling: the sharp pang in your heart followed by shortness of breath and tension.  You step out of bed and quickly throw on the closest tshirt and pair of shorts you can find.  

As you walk up to the front door you jump back in shock as there is a large white box sitting in the middle of the hallway.  No it can’t be.  Everyone else in the house is sound asleep – there’s no way that box could get there…unless…someone broke into the house. 

You tip toe up to the door and peek through the cubby hole.  No one is there.  Slowly you open the door and peek your head outside.  All clear to the left and all clear to the right.  You slam the door and throw on the dead bolt.

Sitting in the middle of the hallway is a big white box.  Your now on full alert and looking for an intruder.  You go through every room of the house, check every corner, and discover that no one has broken in.  Whewwww!

You walk back to the hallway where the box is and open it.  Inside there’s a white slip with a telephone number that reads: Protect Yourself From Intruders – Install ADT Today and Use It Free For the First 30 Days.

Congratulations ADT, you just simulatnously scared the shit out of some dude and converted him into a customer. 


ADT ran this camapign in Chile.  They slid Pop-Up boxes under people’s home doors to make them think that someone was in their place that shouldn’t be.  Fear tactics – I love it! 

Fear sells arguably better than sex.  In order to have thoughts of sex you need to be free of fear.  Fear selling trumps sex selling.  

Here’s how the pros sell fear:


1.  Scare The Daylights Out Of People

The goal in this phase is not to create new fears, but to tap into existing fears.  Discover your customer’s fears.  Then create a story that brings those fears to life. 

i.e.  Purell started pumping out ads that brought to light just how filthy our hands are:  “A 2003 survey sponsored by the American Society of Microbiology found that many people passing through major U.S. airports don’t wash their hands after using the public facilities…”  Purrell went on to add stats, colorful figures, and actually show shots of germs passing from one hand to the next.  Ewwwwweee!!!

2.  Introduce An Offer That Will Eliminate The Fear

Purrell introduced a bacteria killing handsoap that “Eliminated 99.99% of germs.”  That’s a pretty high amount.  The elicited consumer reaction: “hey, that’s pretty good.  I’ll prefer 99.99% of germs eliminated vs. my current state of germs infesting my skin.”

3.  The Recommended Offer Is Perceived As Credible

Purrell included studies, doctor endorsements, and testimonials.  The perceived value of their soap is top notch.  There’s videos of the bacteria disappearing off of the hands of users.  Awesome credibility builders!!!

4.  The Consumer Believes She Can Use The Offer To Eliminate The Fear

Make your offer simple & easy to use.  Your offer not only alleviates the consumer’s fears, it is so seamless to use.

By understanding your customers demographic, you will create the right barrier to entry.  In the case of Purrel, they offered their soap at $2.99, just a tad bit higher than conventional soaps.  The perceived value was so high that it was a no brainer.

IMPORTANT: In order to succeed using this stragegy you must accomplish all 4 steps.  If you remove a step, it won’t work.

Also, if you scare your audience too much, they’ll run.  Fear can paralyze.  Fear will motivate your prospect to act only if they believe your offer will change their situation.   That means that in order to create an effective fear campaign, your ad must have specific, believable recommedations for reducing the threat that are both credible and achievable.

Credits: Drew Eric Whitman’s book Cashvertising gave me a lot of insight into this article.  I highly recommend you read his book.

Rich Gorman is an internet entrepreneur. His primary focuses are on direct response offers and SaaS models. When not working Rich enjoys spending time with his family.