|ADVERTSIERS ARE TRYING TO SCARE THE $$$$ OUT OF US!|
|Written by Del Breckenfeld - Author|
|Saturday, 01 May 2010 12:57|
How many of you have seen that new Mercedes commercial where their car is rolling over and over again in painfully slow motion towards the screen? I survived a roll-over many years ago so that visual is all the more nightmarish to me. The point to their commercial is no secret – drive our car or you might not survive a serious crash. Mercedes and other auto manufacturers (and related product like tires – think of the message of the Michelin baby) have used this tactic in previous commercials so I have to believe it works. As marketers, we know that fear is a powerful motivator – typically a cause and effect such as the scary nightly news story followed by things that will make us feel better like some sort of medication or maybe even buying a new car. Or how about the recent focus on America’s obsession with fast food and subsequent obesity problem followed by, what else, a McDonald’s commercial? The probable cause and effect relationship might be, “Heart disease and type 2 diabetes frighten me so I need some comfort food right away to make me feel better.” Yeah and McDonald's is really "lovin' It."
Fear as a motivator in advertising is as old as advertising itself. If fact, fear has even manipulated us into going to the movies. It was widely reported that when the classic horror film The Exorcist came out, many viewers were visually shaken to the point of nausea, and a small percentage even reported having nightmares for weeks afterwards. It was a scary flick, but those reports certainly didn’t hurt ticket sales; we know they had the opposite effect. To guarantee the scare factor, it was also discovered that production had placed several disturbing sounds (angry bees, pigs being slaughtered which sounded eerily like screaming children), and subliminal images (the devil’s face outlined in breath vapor in the freezing bedroom scene) into the film that built the tension level in most, but also caused a severe enough reaction in a small susceptible percentage of viewers.
But we go to scary movies because it’s fun to be scared as long as it’s not real. Right?
Correct. But that’s quite a stretch when it comes to commercials and ads scaring us when we haven’t being given the choice whether or not we want to be frightened. I was always interested in marketing, even before I chose it as a career, and in high school I was fascinated with Vance Packard’s “Hidden Persuaders” which exposed advertiser’s manipulation of consumers through subliminal messages in their ads. My cousin Ken used to work for a major ad agency and denied that they ever did that. But I would sit down with his son Ken Jr. and he could easily pick out all the symbols imbedded in print ads. As a responsible uncle, I did shield him from the inappropriate content. Liquor ads were the most blatant – symbols of death in the cold ice in the glass such as sharks and demon heads, and symbols of life such as fish and couples holding hands (some overtly sexual images as well) in the warmth of the amber liquid beneath. Adults usually have to stare at an ad for awhile until the symbols begin to appear, but children and teens seem to be able to find them right away because they’re minds are much more open and receptive – the 3D images in the Magic Eye books that would take me quite some time to decipher would appear almost instantaneous to my daughters Shanna & Holly when they were young. My stepson Kjell is 16 and when I showed him some recent ads in GQ Magazine he was skeptical at first, but nonetheless was able to easily find the symbols. But in those liquor ads the advertising message was always the same – the world is a scary place but you’ll find solace in the warm embrace of a stiff drink, preferably ours. I feel rewarded when I find these little manipulators and I feel even better when I can reveal these to others so they can be aware of the ads that use fear in attempting to manipulate us into buying their products. But what I am really afraid of that even though we’ve blown their cover – they still seem to work and just like Freddy Krueger, they will be back to scare us again.
Coda: One of the really scary ads came out way back in 1975. Under the heading “Want to See a Grown Man Cry?” was a broken bottle of Crown Royal. The background was a sinister black and in outline of the spilt liquor one can easily detect the shape of a human skull (note: prints of this all-time classic ad are still available on eBay if you want to see this first-hand.).