August 19, 2009

Scare Tactics

Beth and I were watching TV the other night. Probably HGTV because we are addicted to HGTV like Eddie Murphy is addicted to bad movie scripts. Anyway, here's the setup.

There's a nice guy and a nice girl. They're in a car. It's obviously a first-date, or something close. He, being a gentleman, gets out of the car, opens her door and walks her to the front door of her place. After they make puppy-dog eyes at each other for a split second, she says something like, "I hope you understand, I just got out of a relationship." And, still the gentleman, he replies "of course" then returns to his car while we see her close the door. Seconds later, after Guy 1 drives away, we see Guy 2. It's clear he's Up To No Good. He gets out of the car motivated by obvious blind jealousy. Because he's the Ex Boyfriend. He bolts from the car, goes to the woman's door and kicks it open in a spontaneous burst of violence just as she's climbing the stairs to bed. And her burglar alarm goes off. Dissuaded by the loud noise, Guy 2 runs away. We're treated to a shot of Girl and policeman, the alarm having succeeded to save her life and call the cops simultaneously.

Never before have I seen a commercial so obviously geared towards scaring someone into a purchase. Especially one that preys on such fundamental fears. Beth was even more shocked than I was. I believe her exact response was what the fuck was that? That's bullshit! And I agree.

My dad tells a story about the worst job he ever had. He was a door-to-door encyclopedia salesman in small town Ohio. It sucked for a couple of reasons. First, it was a door-to-door sales job. And that can't be fun. Second, he was dropped off in the poorest areas of town and told to guilt trip those who could least afford the encyclopedias into buying them, to pray on the fear that their children, if uneducated, wouldn't ever make it out of the neighborhood. Needless to say, he didn't last long as an encyclopedia salesman. But can you imagine if everyone felt the need to scare us into buying whatever they're selling?


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Now, I'm no marketing genius but I don't think scaring people is the most effective way of getting people to buy something. Because in order to sell something, you have to have something people actually need. And we're not only seeing this in marketing. In fact, scaring the shit out of us seemed to be the main goal of both political parties during the last election. Isn't there enough in the world to be afraid of without manufacturing more?

What gets you to buy something? Is fear a motivating factor? How much are you influenced by marketing?

Posted by Chris at August 19, 2009 6:51 AM
Comments

To be honest I don't watch commercials thanks to my fast forward button on my Tivo and I rarely read ads in magazines. What motivates me to buy things are reviews. I will normally read reviews online of people that have purchased the products as well. I will take painstaking time to print out the info on all the cell phones I am interested in and look up each one on CNET until I narrow it down to the best review with the features I want.

I think consumers thoughts on a product are the best endorsement.

Posted by: Dee at August 19, 2009 7:40 AM

Like Dee, I think I am pretty well insulated from advertising since we watch very little t.v., and I listen to satellite radio, NPR or audio books while driving. I've seen that ad you are talking about though, and I think my reaction was about the same as Beth's. Unfortunately, I think lots of advertisers use fear to sell: you must use antibacterial cleaners in quantities sufficient to choke an elephant or you WILL GET SICK, etc.. Loved the Gecko ad by the way :)

I've come to realize that lots of advertisers use children to get at their parents. Elliot will see a commercial and he will then repeat it nearly word for word in his attempt to persuade me to buy whatever it was he saw. Which is why I don't allow my kids to watch "commercial" t.v. or I'd be drowning in Pancake Pup pans!

Posted by: Elizabeth at August 19, 2009 8:11 AM

A beauty shot of the food in a commercial can work wonders for me.

I have to admit I have been tempted to call Geico and see if they really can save me money on my car insurance. Maybe because I have heard it enough times?

Posted by: Debbie at August 19, 2009 8:14 AM

The worse one is the one where, on a happy sunny afternoon, mom and daughter are playing in their yard. Then, they go inside for lunch and some men, who are Up To No Good, try to break in and kill them in broad daylight. This shows you that you and your children are never, ever safe, and you need the alarm.

Usually, being funny is the way to get me to like your product. I still miss the Starbucks' Eye of the Tiger parody commercial. I loved that commercial.

Posted by: caleal at August 19, 2009 8:16 AM

What I always comment when those alarm commercials come on is WHY do the people run UPSTAIRS? I'd think they should try to run OUT a door. If the phone isn't answered the alarm guy will send the police. Do they have a panic room upstairs they'll be safe? It boggles the mind.

Posted by: daisy at August 19, 2009 8:38 AM

It's funny, because when Shane and I were watching that alarm ad (and it was definitely a WTF?! moment) we didn't see it as the guy breaking in being the ex. It seemed like he was just waiting for her to get home. Hmm, now I actually want to see it again to see if we read it wrong...

Fear is definitely not a motivator for me to buy something. A shot of some good-looking food is sometimes enough to make me hungry. Funny ads don't necessarily make me want to buy the product in question, but if they stick with you chances are you'll think of the product when you're shopping. Case in point: when we were looking for car insurance GEICO immediately came to mind (I *heart* that little gecko), but we only went with them because they offered the best rates.

I also remember shitty or offensive commercials, and I WON'T buy whatever it is they're selling.

Posted by: Fraulein N at August 19, 2009 9:13 AM

What I hate most is that the most terrifying of those commercials (that one and the one where the girl is working out in her living room) are based on WOMEN and fear. I can't speak for every woman but I know that in my regular day-to-day life, I have at least a small amount of fear lurking around. When I see those commercials, they give me a little kick in the panic area of my brain. Selling something by feeding on fear (hmm sound familiar?) is dishonest. I think a majority of people, especially women, are not blindly ignorant to the possibility of break-ins and assault. Ugh.

I am mostly motivated by shiny. Is it shiny? Does it do need things? Is it a cool color or particularly sleek? Is the packaging awesome? I will probably buy it. Most of my luxuries are electronic. Because I'm a technogeek.

Posted by: Sparkle Pants at August 19, 2009 9:20 AM

Boobs get me to buy something. Like if they showed in that commercial A close-up of the girls cleavage as she entered her security code into the alarm system. I would buy the alarm system thinking I would see boob every time I entered my code.

Posted by: William at August 19, 2009 10:02 AM

I usually purchase something because I'm aspiring to something: health, fun, relaxation, convenience, improved quality of life, etc. I do agree that the ad was b.s. However, I do think alarm systems are a good idea. When you're talking about an alarm system, virtually any scenario one would create to show the system in action would be a scary one.

Posted by: Kris at August 19, 2009 10:10 AM

a good commercial/good marketing gives me an aesthetic Vision of the product. and if i get that, it is hard to resist. but i am a skeptic by nature :)

Posted by: kati at August 19, 2009 11:02 AM

My house was broken into last September and that afternoon, people from a security company showed up on my doorstep offering my a free system installation. I accepted because 1) Free and 2) I didn't want to become a free TV warehouse for morally-ambiguous jackasses. Still, it says something about a company that basically gets constant updates on criminal activity in order to use it to prey on people at a particularly opportune moment. Exactly one week prior to my break in, I turned down a similar security system, so it just goes to show the change in thinking that can make a difference between a sale and a rejection.

Posted by: You can call me, 'Sir' at August 19, 2009 11:09 AM

The one with the mom and daughter is "worse" from the preying on fear angle. I agree with the comment about why they hell they ran upstairs...but I also don't see it as realistic that mom and kid come in from playing outside to have lunch, and mom immediately arms the alarm system. All I could think was that they must live in a pretty crappy neighborhood to have that routine.

But as much as I try not to be influenced by marketing, I often am. I keep thinking that I need an alarm system. And since every car maker is telling me that they are my cash-for-clunkers headquarters, I just need to figure out which HQ to visit.

Posted by: Teresa at August 19, 2009 11:39 AM

What is insurance other than a scare tactic?

I'll pay you $xx.xx every month because I'm pretty sure I'm going to:
a) wreck my car
b) get sick and need medical assistance
c) burn down my house

If that's not fear, then it's flat out gambling.
And the insurance companies take that bet because they know you'll lose.
"Thanks for the money, sucker."

Posted by: Roses at August 19, 2009 12:10 PM

I'm afraid I must disagree based solely on 8 years of George W. Bush: fear is an excellent way to get people to buy something.

It's certainly not a moral way to go about it. It's not very nice, either. But it's damn effective.

Posted by: erin at August 19, 2009 1:45 PM

Fear is actually a super effective motivator for a couple of demographics.

What works for me is really good, beautiful photographer. Gorgeous images reach me more effectively than most copy. When copy does reach me, it's typically through humor.

Posted by: Elise at August 19, 2009 2:42 PM

Fear sucks!!!!

I gotta admit, I usually buy things based on impulse. Not much forethought or planning involved.

Didn't get a chance to mention it yesterday, but loved the hibaby story!

Posted by: debb at August 19, 2009 3:05 PM

Wow, that is LOW. Seriously bottom-dwelling. I would e-mail them and bitch about it, is what I would do.

Fear is rarely a big motivator in my decisions to purchase/do/choose things, which is probably why this just pisses me off.

Posted by: Dawn at August 19, 2009 3:22 PM

Lets look at this from the point of view of the marketing department for the alarm system. They have a product that maybe you could use, but probably aren't going to think about unless you are in the right mind frame. Puppies and rainbows don't sell alarm systems. Fear of death, now THAT moves products.

But in our ever increasing "fearscape" that has grown from: general fear of nuclear death raining from above with a nice large 45 minute window, to random death from terrorists with no warning, to be afraid of every possible surface and particle of dust because it carries SWINE FLU, it becomes harder and harder to motivate people.

You think the commercials of TODAY are something offensive, wait until you see what is coming down the pipe:
Using IP Address location combined with GPS chip information in your cable box combined with real time satellite feed, the commercial starts with a view of your house from orbit.

The picture tightens, and you see your yard, with a digtially added CGI GuyUpToNoGood stalking his way towards your window.

Using your dolby surround sound system, the sounds of window jiggling are directed to be coming from your hallway, and then the sound of broken glass, and using live feed from the traffic cam down the street you see a CGI burglar crawling in your window.

Picking up the feed from your cablebox camera ( check it out, they want to put it in ) you see yourself sitting on the couch, and CGI baddie lurking behind you, raising the axe.

Cut to red flash on the screen, with the tag line "Next time it's REAL" and a number to call for the security company to do the install.

Hey, weak privacy laws and a few petaflops of processing power, coupled with a guy desperate to make a sale, and anything is possible!

Keep up the great work Chris!

Posted by: metawizard at August 19, 2009 3:53 PM

I don't know what actually *works* for me. I like to think I've made myself immune to a certain extent (and I'm now working on my kids - "why do you think they're making it look so fun?"), but to the best of my knowledge, I'm still human (and so are they - usually). Crying babies are probably the worst, but then, I already don't drink & drive (might I have?)

What I *like* is clever and funny. But I'm not sure it makes me buy.

Also, I have a hunch William thinks about boobs when he's punching in his alarm code already. And maybe when he's brushing his teeth. And opening a jar of pesto.

Posted by: harmzie at August 19, 2009 4:59 PM

After years in advertising I can tell you this:
If they NEED it they don't need you to convince them to buy it. They will go out and buy it. As an Advertising man,(when the hell did "marketing" take over?) It is your job to make them THINK they need it. This takes creativity and sometimes genius.

Posted by: Dennis W. at August 19, 2009 6:52 PM

Hubby had a crazy ex-wife and I used to worry that she would try to break in and hurt me. No need to hire a security company, I just learned to shoot a gun!

Posted by: Maribeth at August 19, 2009 7:19 PM

Dude, I was listening to the tv and looked up about the time the guy kicked in the door -- my first thought was that it was the same guy, and they were giving the impression of impending date rape. It took me a minute to realize it was 2 diffeent guys. I was totally shaking my head on that commercial.

Posted by: coolchick at August 19, 2009 8:11 PM

You always blog the things I think about. Seriously. I have seen that commercial and thought "now c'mon...scare me why don't you?" Why can't they have a gay man dropping off his flamer boyfriend and then a crazy lady hellbent on making the gay man go straight for her knock on the door? I mean this in the sense that why scare us women into thinking that alarm would scare away Freddy Kreuger?

Secondly on that geico spot you put together...the gecko should be in front of a woman with a flat tire on her car or smoke coming out of the engine and then his little green face in front of it saying "you're fucked" because seriously...I keep paying Geico more because I love love love their emergency road side assistance program soooooo much I cannot speak highly enough about it. Within a mere five minutes a tow truck will come get you and your car and take you both to a safe place, even if it's raining and there are hurricane conditions in the state of Florida.

That damn gecko...I swear he can catch that big old dude when he falls backwards...they just don't let us see the power of the lizard when they cut off the end of that commercial.

Posted by: Kristy at August 19, 2009 8:12 PM

I saw that commercial too and was horrified. I too work in advertising but on the publisher side. Sometimes ya can't get brands and agencies to see what you see. Oh well.

Posted by: DCUrbanDad at August 19, 2009 9:42 PM

#1: Crazies like crazy ex-boyfriends (or -girlfriends) don't knock down your door. They have their own key that they kept and you don't know about, or they wait until you're alone and vulnerable. The whole point is to show the rest of the world how rational they are, and make you look irrational if you do something public about avoiding them. Helps cover up how crazy they are. (Sadly, yes, I am speaking from experience as being on the receiving end of someone's craziness. Can't tell you how glad I am *that's* over.)

#2 Over 90% of all alarm systems triggers are bogus, which means that it's the service level agreement that keeps the staff going, not the idea that they're actually protecting someone.

I like ads that make me feel like a good person: I'm good because I save my money, buy literature, support members of my local neighbourhood business association, take public transit, eat food grown by farmers from my region. Stuff that simply praises me for being a consumer (most clothing, makeup, and shoe ads) leaves me cold unless they mention there's a sale on. Then I'll evaluate if the sale makes it worth it.

One thing that has changed for me: most of the ads I see are over the Net, because I don't watch regular TV or read paper newspapers. So a lot of the ads I see are for products and services not even available in my country!

Posted by: Kat at August 19, 2009 10:36 PM

I pay little attention to commercials. They aren't as creative as they used to be. I miss the silly jingles. Tivo spares me, I rarely watch things live.

Fear doesn't work for me. Marketing works wonders on my boy. He wants gobs of things that he sees in commercials.

We have had a security system for the past few years. Problem is that most of us that have them don't keep it on every moment of everyday.

Posted by: One Mom's Opinion at August 19, 2009 10:36 PM

One of my favorite history teachers used to say that FEAR (he always wrote it in all caps on the board) was the single most powerful motivator for human beings. And then discussed that in relation to various historical events (e.g. war). Anyway, your point on using fear as a way to 'sell' your product is well taken.

Posted by: Jane in Pa at August 19, 2009 10:58 PM

That commercial pisses me off for a few reasons. 1) Seriously, who the FUCK turns their alarm on the second they enter the house? 2) If he had been with her for a while, then he'd KNOW she has an alarm, and more importantly, he'd understand that she's retarded and arms the system less than 30 seconds after getting in the house. 3) He wouldn't run away, because HE'D KNOW WHAT HE'S GETTING HIMSELF INTO! Gawd. It's a horrid commercial. And you're right. I hate when companies use scare tactics like that. My parents owned an alarm company, and they'd never do shit like that. They give you the facts, plain and simple. They never said, OMG WHAT IF THAT ONE IN A MILLION CHANCE YOUR BROTHERS SISTERS DOGS SONS MASTER MIGHT COME TRY AND BREAK INTO YOUR HOUSE?! Bah.

Sorry. I'm done now. To answer your question, fear doesn't really motivate me. Other than wanting to buy a baseball bat for when I'm home alone. I ignore marketting generally. I don't watch commercials because they annoy the hell out of me.

Posted by: secha at August 20, 2009 8:29 AM

Ah that's so true. I absolutely loathe the fear-mongering in politics. My fiance is actually taking communications and going into advertising or PR. How ironic that I, with my punk politics am going to marry a man who's going into a career as Satan himself :p

Posted by: Miss Fae at August 20, 2009 12:56 PM

I saw that commercial the other day and had the same horrified reaction. W.T.F?!? I thought it was the original guy (like someone said earlier) but I wasn't watching closely until the whole kick the door down part. Yeah, I thought it was pretty awful.

Posted by: Jess at August 20, 2009 2:40 PM

I HATE house alarm commercials. They're all like that, and it's always women and children who are being preyed upon and saved by the house alarm.
To a lesser extent, I got annoyed by a car insurance commercial the other day that said, "If you have a teenage driver in your family, it's not IF but WHEN they'll get in an accident," followed by the insinuation that you'd better have enough coverage to take care of everything in a really bad car crash.

Posted by: Amy at August 22, 2009 9:39 PM

Very informative and useful article indeed. I really like the way writer has presented his views. I hope to see more great articles in future as well.

Posted by: bandages at June 19, 2011 8:53 AM


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