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May 11, 2010
Why Emotional Marketing Sells

The best ads, the best campaigns, touch our hearts. They make us scared, they make us angry, and they make tears well up in our eyes. These masterpieces stay with us for years, creating loyalty to a brand and driving buying decisions we don’t question. This article is the first in a series that focuses on fear marketing.

While there are many great examples of fear marketing, we’re going to examine two here. These ads make your pulse race and throat tighten, possibly keeping you up at night. Fear is instilled and can be calmed only when you act on it by buying their products to keep you from feeling the terror again.

Brinks Home Security

Brinks Home Security provide arguably the best examples of truly terrifying marketing. In most, the setting is a comfortable, upper middle-class home. There’s a wide shot of the home, and as you zoom in closer, creepy piano playing begins. The mom is usually alone, or worse, surrounded by young children. They’re having fun baking cookies or watching a movie together. Perhaps the oldest daughter is preparing for her first date. You’re seeing a slice of American pie, until it turns ugly.

They’ve just locked the door and set the alarm when glass breaks and an evil visage is shown sneering through the glass. Here’s where your terror becomes real. You can’t rationalize that this is just a commercial, you’re already internally screaming to the mom to get the kids out and hide. Run! Just as quickly, Brinks steps in and saves the day. The alarm instantly sounds, the phone rings, and the scary evildoer runs away.

These ads never cease to cause sheer panic in most, and after only a few, many jump up to call Brinks so they too can be safe from criminals. We see the commercials and feel like we can’t be safe in our own homes without Brinks.

OnStar by GM

Not quite as terrifying, but equally as disturbing are the OnStar commercials. I contemplated classifying them differently but chose to include them because they typically evoke fear.

Most OnStar commercials are radio spots comprised of actual phone conversations of their users’ most fear-filled moments. With these ads, you are transported instantly into a person’s worst nightmare, and like no actor can portray, you feel their real pain, raw fear, and blind panic as if you were there with them.

Usually, the ads follow a vehicle collision, but lately, they’ve begun to use those that offer up slices of everyday panic with a mom having breathing problems while her 6-year-old uses OnStar or a mother trying to help her young son through his first seizure. They’re great because you are hooked immediately, and the ads conjure up a sense of bonding to the victims that’s uncanny.

Before the commercial is over, you’re wondering if you would have handled the trauma as well or as poorly as the victim. What if you were alone with your 7-year-old when this horrible circumstance occurred? How can you live without OnStar? These commercials are riveting, and after only a few, the sane response is to go look at which cars offer OnStar so you too can be safe everywhere you go.

Fear marketing works, though as a consumer, I can’t say I enjoy this brand of entertainment. The next column will look at the next segment of heart marketing: love and sadness.

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Robyn Tippins is a community advocate with more than 10 years in the social media space. She oversees the community aspect of the external developers on the Yahoo! Developer Network. Robyn has blogged for blog networks and corporations, podcasted for small and large businesses, worked closely with social networking sites, and advised Fortune 500 companies on social media and community. Her book, co-authored with Miranda Marquit, “Building Communities,” will be released in 2010. Read her blog.

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