If someone were to hold a bank with a banana in his pocket, he would be charged with armed robbery. Clearly, no victim was in any danger of being shot, but it’s the belief that the robber has a real gun that is considered by the law. Knowing fully well that fear will motivate them to comply with his demands; the robber took steps to make his victims afraid. Fear, real or perceived, is arguably the most powerful manipulation of the lot.
No one ever got fired for hiring IBM goes the old adage, describing a behaviour completely borne out of fear. An employee in a procurement department, tasked with finding the best suppliers for a company, turns down a better product at a better price simply because it’s from a smaller company or lesser known brand. Fear, real or perceived, that his job would be on the line, if something went wrong, was enough to make him ignore the express purpose of his job and even do something that was not in the company’s best interest.
When fear is employed, facts are incidental. Deeply seated in our biological drive to survive, that emotion cannot be quickly wiped away with facts and figures. That’s how terrorism works. It’s not a statistical probability that one could get hurt by a terrorist, but it’s the fear that it might happen cripples the population.
A powerful manipulator, fear is often used with far less nefarious motivations. We use fear to raise our children. Fear is regularly used in public, service ads; say to promote child safety of Aids awareness, or the need to wear seat belts.
Anyone who was watching television in the 1980s got a heavy dose if anti-drug advertising, including one often mimicked public service ad from a government program to combat drug abuse among teenagers: This is your brain, the man’s voice said as he held up his pristine white egg. Then he cracked the egg into a frying pan spattering hot oil – this is your brain on the drugs. Any questions?
And another ad intended to scare the hell out of any brash teenager: Cocaine doesn’t make you sexy – it makes you dead.
Likewise, when a politician says that their opponent will raise taxes or cut spending on law enforcement, or the evening news alerts you that your health entitlements or security are at risk unless you tune in at 11. Both attempting to seed fear among voters, viewers respectively. Businesses also use fear to agitate the insecurity we all have in order to sell products. The idea is that if you don’t buy the product/ service, something not good would happen to you shortly.
Every 36 seconds, someone dies of a heart attack states an ad for a local cardiac specialist. Have you called up 3M yet, your neighbour did and his family is safe — reads the ad on the side of a truck for some company, selling a home disinfect service. And, of course, the insurance industry would like to sell a term life insurance, before it’s too late.
If anyone has ever sold you anything with a warning to fear the consequences if you don’t buy it, they are using a proverbial gun on your head to help you see the value of choosing them over their competitor, or perhaps it’s just a banana.
But it works. Works effectively. Deftly. Conclusively.