Fear: The Potential of an Appeal Neglected by Marketing

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Fear: The Potential of an Appeal Neglected by Marketing
MICHAEL L. RAY AND WILLIAM L. WILKIE neglect the fear appeal a M ARKETING'S failure tooftake full advantageis of prime example of the field's communication research findings. While a large number of behavioral studies on fear have been published, marketing ignores their hints for segmentation, communication goal setting, message construction, and product differentiation. Instead of looking at these detailed results, marketing seems content to ask the simple question, "Is fear effective or not?," and to reach the premature conclusion that fear is not effective as an appeal. There is now enough evidence from research and from practical applications to indicate that fear should no longer be eliminated from consideration as a marketing and advertising appeal. This paper is an attempt to present some of these research results on fear; it suggests how they might be used to make marketing decisions. Past Marketing Treatment of Fear ' A search of the marketing literature reveals either that fear appeals are not mentioned, or that they are guardedly rejected for marketing and advertising application on the basis of Janis and Feshbach's 1953 research on fear appeals and dental hygiene.^ Their findings indicated that a strong fear appeal was less effective than moderate or mild fear appeals in producing reported adherence to recommended dental hygiene practices. This negative finding—the more the fear the less the effect—is the only research result on fear reported by Cox.'- In Crane's text the Janis and Feshbach study is outlined under the headline " 'Scare Appeal' on Teeth Boomerangs."'* Myers and Reynolds list as "Principle S-2" the notion that "strong appeals to fear, by arousing too much tension in the audience, are less effective in persuasion than minimal appeals."* Engel, KoUat and Blackwell, while citing a wide range of fear studies in their one-page treatment of the I. Janis and S. Feshbach, "Effects of Fear-Arousing Communications," Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 'Vol. 48 (January, 1963), pp. 78-92. D. F. Cox, "Clues for Advertising Strategists: I," Harvard Business Review, 'Vol. 39 (September-October, 1961), pp. 160-164. E. Crane, Marketing Communications: A Behavioral Approach to Men, Messages and Media (New York: John Wiley and Sons, Inc., 1965), pp. 137-138. J. H. Myers and W. H. Reynolds, Consum-er Behavior and Marketing Matiagement (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1967), p. 280.

Considerable social psychology and communications research show that intelligent use of fear messages can have favorable effects on attitude change and action. Yet the unique persuasive possibilities offered by the fear appeal have been neglected by marketing. This is in sharp contrast to the creative pursuit of positive advertising appeals. This article presents a marketing-oriented discussion and summary of research on the fear appeal.

Journal of Marketing. 1970). pp. 64-62.

Vol. 34 (January.


Fear: The Potential of an Appeal Neglected by Marketing area, decide only that "Further research is needed."^ The fact is that further research has been done. Over 90 studies have been reported in Psychological Abstracts since the Janis and Feshbach research. Further, quite a few of these studies have actually found that high fear was more effective than low or no fear. This is the reverse of what Janis and Feshbach found and the reverse of what marketing has seemingly been assuming over the last 15 or 16 years. But the key point from these studies is not that high fear, low fear, or no fear was successful. The key point is that these studies provide information which could help marketers make advertising decisions. Fear research has been conducted with many types of people and should provide hints for segmentation. The findings should help marketers set communication goals, because several levels of effect —from interest and awareness to attitude and action —have been...
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