Does your marketing strategy hit the sweet spot?

Wednesday, September 14, 2016 - 18:39

By AIM Education & Training

A person in a white coat places a bloody lung on a surgical table before splitting it open with a scalpel. The very same person places another, much darker lung on the table. The comparison is stark and unsettling.

The images could be from a horror movie if not for the narrator telling the audience about the dangers of smoking. The gory scenes are an example of what marketers call a "fear appeal". 

While graduates of marketing would be aware of the impact fear appeals can have, many believe that in today's world, they do not hold the same sway they used to. However, a scientific study has found that neuroscience can help ensure fear appeals work effectively on your audience. 

Have you met Graham?

Fear-based appeals come with both risks and limitations. One of the biggest issues with fear-based appeals is they have a tendency to disengage viewers from the campaign's message. The Boomerang Effect, as it is called, occurs when a fear appeal is too strong or too weak and leads viewers to mentally and emotionally disconnect from the posited message.

As such, many campaigns tend to avoid these appeals, out of fear of disengaging the audience. One recent example is Victoria's new road safety campaign, which has garnered national attention. 

Road safety is one of the most talked about issues in Australia. The yearly reports of road deaths tends to spark the public into action, which in turn leads to new government campaigns and adverts. 

While the Department of Infrastructure and Regional Development reports Australia has the 17th lowest rate out of 33 OECD nations, there is still a lot to do to catch up with Sweden and the UK. 

Victoria has altered its road safety approach by moving away from fear appeals with a new interactive initiative called Graham. Teaming up with a Melbourne artist, the state government produced the lifelike sculpture to demonstrate a driver's vulnerability in a crash.

The idea behind Graham is to show the bodily features needed to withstand the forces involved in a crash. The initiative is a complete change in direction for Victoria, which has been known for its uncompromising adverts that bring to life the effects of crashes. 

However, is Graham the future of advertising - where fear-based appeals have little place? Or is there space for marketing campaigns that use fear-based adverts to drive messages home?

Building an advertising campaign with fear appeals

When it comes to advertising, our brains are the most important element. However, most of our brain is hidden from observation. When we think of its operation, we are actually imagining its output. 

However, new techniques have helped researchers from the Kellogg School identify the point where fear-based campaigns make the most impact. Specifically, they found that people can increase the level of fear they experience if they think about a frightening aspect of the advert just before they begin watching. The method increases the chances of the content's underlying message to stick and potentially change future behaviour.

By tailoring adverts to specific audiences, marketers can ensure that people remember the message without risk of the boomerang effect coming into play. What this means is that marketers need to discover what it is about the issue that scares particular public segments and then create a campaign that targets these specific fears - ultimately driving home the original message. 

Whether it's a public service announcement or a commercial marketing campaign, the impact of fear appeals can be increased by the use of this method. With the help of neuroscience, marketers can optimise the ways to increase the stickiness of their message.

AIM's Strategic Marketing short course examines all facets of strategic marketing from market analysis and customer profiling to segmentation and brand positioning. You will learn the benefits of adopting strategic marketing tools and how they can support you in growing your organisation.