Buy Now Before It’s Too Late! Is Fear-Based Marketing Effective?

In the world of content marketing, you can use either the ‘carrot’ or the ‘stick’ method. The former explains the benefits of what you’re offering and how it can be used to improve the lives of prospects. The latter method involves the use of fear and can be considered as one of the ‘dark sides of marketing’.

Is Fear An Effective Marketing Tool?

It is arguably THE most effective; when it is done right of course. Studies have shown humans are not likely to take a risk when they can lose as much as they might gain (loss aversion). In many cases, even the prospect of winning more than you could lose is not enough of a motivation to perform a certain action. As a result, it can be relatively easy for a skilled copywriter to tap into the fear of loss as a means of making a sale.

Which do you think is a more effective sales line?

Act NOW before your pension fund dwindles into NOTHING!

Through a careful and consistent long-term strategy, you can enjoy a comfortable retirement.

The latter line is just plain boring whereas the first line makes the reader feel uneasy. They start thinking about all those unfortunate individuals who recently lost a large chunk of their pension during the global recession. We may be recovering from it but what if something else happens? Now you have worried the reader to the point where he/she wants to read on to discover how to grow their fund by 15% a year or whatever arbitrary figure you want to pluck out of the air.
There are all kinds of ways to use fear to make a sale:

• Fear of getting fat in order to sell a gym membership or health food product.

• Fear of being a skinny dweeb for the rest of your life in other to sell a muscle building product.

• Fear of bad breath to sell mouthwash (Listerine achieved this masterfully back in the 1920s and is still a huge name today.)

• Fear of aging to sell cosmetics.

• Fear of losing your savings to sell some kind of money making scheme.

The list goes on and on.

Is Fear Based Marketing Ethical?

It really depends on what you’re selling. If your product actually has the capacity to solve the problem you should be able to sleep soundly at night. However, if you are basically tapping into people’s insecurities to sell a crappy product, you are contributing to the bad name carried by marketing.

The health and fitness industry is arguably one of the most unethical around. Companies are forever selling garbage and claiming it will add 40 pounds of muscle to your frame or help you lose 100 pounds in 12 weeks. In most cases, these claims are preposterous and the products are often overpriced, worthless rubbish. There are also a myriad of shady money-making schemes which end up taking your cash rather than increasing your personal fortune. These are all examples of unethical fear-based marketing.

Basically, if you are more likely to hurt the person than help them with what you’re selling, the word ‘unscrupulous’ comes to mind though I have a few stronger words that can’t be printed here.

Can You Get It Wrong?

Obviously! According to this scientific report, fear can actually negatively impact your target audience and drive them away. Using people’s fears to manipulate them could actually reduce the effectiveness of your marketing. For example, you may be looking to sell testosterone to men going through ‘andropause’ (male menopause) and you explain how they’ll lose their muscle mass, develop man boobs and generally suck at life.

While they may ‘man up’ and go out to purchase your product, the realisation their best years are behind them may actually cause them to retreat into a form of depression where your testosterone cream is the last thing on their mind. When people are presented with too many threats to their health/safety/financial status etc., they may just say ‘screw it, I’m doomed either way so why bother with this product?’


One on hand, it is incorrect to assume all negativity is bad strategy in marketing. While tapping into fear may seem unethical, it can cause someone to take a long, hard look at where their life is headed and get them to act in a proactive manner. Additionally, real life is tough and we face many challenges so you can actually assist prospects by enabling them to overcome their fear and reduce the risk caused by a genuine threat.

While fear based marketing is certainly controversial and can be unethical in certain cases, it has the potential to be incredibly effective and a successful campaign could boost your profits to a never before seen level. Fear is the biggest motivator and when you carefully craft a sales page to this effect, tangible results will follow.