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Use of Fear Appeal Messages in Advertising

Table of Contents

  • Introduction to the Topic
  • Aim of the Dissertation
  • Role of Persuasion in Advertising
  • Effect of Fear Messages in Advertising
  • Fear Messages and Usage of Sounds in Jingles
  • Consumer Loyalty in Advertising Messages
  • Consumer Loyalty in the wake of Fear Message Advertising
  • Basis of Shock Advertising
  • Ethical Regimes in Shock Advertising
  • Psychological and Marketing Aspects of Shock Advertising
  • Models of Fear Messages and Shock Form of Advertising
  • Understanding the Psyche of the Consumers in Shock Advertising
  • The Customer Context in the Psychological and Marketing Aspects of Fear Messages and Shock Form of Advertising
  • Social and Ethical Constructs with Shock Advertising
  • Images of Organizations Making Use of Fear Messages and Shock Advertising
  • An Example of a Brand Making Use of Shock Advertising
  • What is so Shocking about Shock Advertising?
  • Concept of ‘Shock-vertising’ in relation with another Example
  • One more Example of Shock Advertising
  • Why Usage of Shock Advertising is deemed Significant?
  • Role of Fear Messages and Shock Advertising on Target Audience
  • Conclusion
  • Bibliography

Introduction to the Topic

Within advertising and marketing communications, different messages play a vital role as they persuade the target consumers towards the product and/or service that is being offered by the company. This message could be in the form of a jingle or an anthem which will be played every time the brand or logo of that brand is on air, on TV or in radio, or displayed in below the line (BTL) activities. The effect of the messages is such that it makes the brand stand out from the competitors and hence does its best to break the clutter which is present in the muddle of a number of different brands and products that are being displayed regularly. A harmonious and catchy tune ensures that the brand remains synonymous with people’s wishes and desires of the product that is being discussed. It also guarantees that it remains close to their heart and thus associations are built with the brand whenever there is some form of linkage with the brand in one way or the other. Another effect that can be had from these messages is that they build a solid and heart warming relationship with the consumers and the rapport is rock solid when it comes to the potential users of the brand. The message is a significant milestone in the marketing communications philosophy.

Aim of the Dissertation

This dissertation aims to investigate the basis of the research aspects related with fear messages that are incorporated into the advertising world of today and how they connect with the target and potential audiences on a one to one level. It will research the shock form of advertising, and thus search for the basis for its plus points as well as downsides to manifest. This is done to find a common ground that needs to be found to meet a point of importance for the signals of terror that are being published in different media vehicles and types. This would assist everyone related with the research of such messages on a global level and hence a lot of incentives could be drawn up for brands and/or organizations. These brands and/or organizations are the ones considering these people are thinking on the lines of investing on fear form of messages for the particular brands and/or organizations. Also, the ethical and moral constructs would be discussed so as to give the other side of the picture – a side taken by the societal norms, values and belief hierarchy.

The conclusions and recommendations that could be drawn from the analysis of the research done on the fear aspect of messages in advertising is that they are beneficial for the brands and/or organizations and that they create value for the customer in more ways than one. They bring out the message given out by the brand and/or organization in a clear cut manner and that the fear messages (and shock advertising) by no means is a way of turning away the customers from such related advertising means and ways.


Role of Persuasion in Advertising

American Enterprise Institute (Tuerck, 1978) states that persuasion and influence in the world of advertising is heavily dependent upon how and what the message actually says. According to (Duncan, 1995), this depends on a host of factors which may range from the actual duration of the ad message to the number of visual shots that are changed in it. Lighting, direction and the eventual follow up of the ad are also very significant here. When one talks about the print media, typography (the language of playing with different fonts and its sizes), colors, graphics and other features are pivotal to bring about a single unified message that persuades and influences the consumer to buying into a particular product than its competitors’. Messages of fear fall under the same domain. (Leigh, 1994) Apart from the ‘what’ and the ‘how’ factors, it is imperative here to state that the number of times the actual message is going to be run on television or radio. Also the fact that the size of the print ad in the newspapers and magazines, or the exact placement of the billboard or shop sign in the outdoor medium reflects the favorable or unfavorable response from the people is significant. For that reason the amount of times the message is hit on the consumer’s mind and the heart reflects his or her positive or negative feelings about the product, not to forget the persuasion or repulsion towards the related product as well. Fear messages are no exception to this rule. In the former case when the persuasion has taken place, a person will now move on to the next step of purchasing the product which eventually is the final step that the customer has to take when he starts interacting with the product. This could happen on a relevant stage for the high involvement product and not so importantly for the low involvement ones but notwithstanding it does happen and must be taken note of by the people at the helm of affairs in the company producing the product. It must also be taken care of by the ones who work in the ad agency promoting the product courtesy the different marketing and advertising methods and strategies. For this reason, Routledge (O’Shanghnessy, 2003) says that it is very necessary to understand the psyche of the consumers as well as their buying/spending patterns on a consistent basis so that they do not stray away from the already chalked out strategy that is known as the target market. It would be better on the brand’s part to narrow down this target as well as potential target market so as to pinpoint the relevant people and also not to have any such wastage during the whole process. In advertising and in the marketing world persuasion and power is an art rather than science itself. It has to be understood in the light of the different consumers that visit the marketplace at different times of the day and the instances that they indeed visit in a week or even a month. Thus advertisers must understand what actually goes into persuading and convincing them (the consumers) into making that purchase rather than opting for the competitors’ product when they actually enter the store and buy. (Cook, 1992)

Effect of Fear Messages in Advertising

The effect of fear messages in marketing communications can bring together different sets of current and potential consumers towards the brand or product which is putting out the advertising message through the very message. This could be beneficial as the one-on-one linkage is created due to its effect and the right target audience begins to get connected with the brand which is indeed a point of significance. The people who are not attracted to the brand or its peculiar advertising and who have some reservations with the product can also get enticed towards the brand. They would like the fear aspect related with the message given out by the advertisers and hence the persuasive factor becomes apparent in the whole discussion. It is a totally different aspect altogether that a similar quantity of these people would be repelled from the brand/product due to the fear appeal messages presented by the brand. There are some customers who can go to the extremes that they would start using the brand/service on a repetitive level if they adore the brand associations which come along with the brand name/logo and fear appeal messages. This is an interesting proposition since it outlines the aspects which are being discussed. These fear messages can build the bridge between the non-users into a segment that starts using it in order to satisfy one’s whims related with music and the attached tastes and liking issues. They can also repel the already attained target audience and turn the tide as far as the potential customers of the brand in its favor. Journal of Advertising Research, Vol. 34 (Campos, 1994) is of the view that within cultures where music holds a lot of importance in the lives of the citizens, the society sees that the brands/services use a lot of music/sounds to attract the target consumers. Thus the cultural aspect asks the consumers to get in constant touch with the brands and its related associations on a regular basis which provides for a complete 360-degree approach towards the brand and the marketing communications which is being done on it.

Fear Messages and Usage of Sounds in Jingles

Commercials make use of the jingles so as to attract the audiences and gear them up in line with the advertising appeal and message of the brands bringing forward their products and/or services through thematic campaigns and/or with the usage of tactical advertising messages. It is ensured by the brand team to make the jingle as effective as it could be so that there is recall of the brand. Furthermore, the associations, which are present alongside the brand itself, are added up. The brand personalities could be shown humming the jingle along with the usage of the brand which could extraordinarily furnish a positive picture of the brand and thus the usage experience is manifested as a result of this. The jingles are made easy to remember so that they stick to a particular part of the consumer memory. (Mitchell, 1993) This guarantees that the people who want to make a purchase but do not know which brand to go for, in the midst of the growing competition, will choose the brand which has a nice and catchy jingle. This jungle will connect the brand and its related associations and experiences with the consumers. If they apply an aspect of horrendous sounds and fear appeals within them, the consumer of this brand would certainly take it against his wishes and would decide upon whether or not buying the brand itself, as Washington Monthly, Vol. 29 (Gans, 1997) states. Consumer movements could be the first step in educating the companies towards their regression of consumer values. This requires a clear fore vision – one that looks at restoring the positive link and relationship between all the parties, players and individual partners. Another option could be to go for effective public opinion so as to change the strategies adopted by the business enterprises in the wake of earning huge profits and never ending revenues by simply focusing on the monetary aspect of things.

When the target audience is fun loving and mostly youth oriented then the jingle would certainly be a range of different colors and hip hop or even rock music to sum up the whole effect. Similar demonstrations have been made apparent by the different advertisements which are on airplay these days showing a canvas of colors, shades and different up beat tunes and melodies. The jingle would be more mature and sober if the target audience is middle aged and is targeted towards the working class. The professional aspect of the brand is made apparent as well as the basis with which it is actually portrayed in the different forms of media courtesy its varied advertising bases. Thus one can easily understand that for different target audiences which are decided upon on the basis of the income and age segments, the realization must be on the differences in which melodies and jingles are packaged. The aspect of attachment and fondness must be in close liaison with the jingle that is being developed. This is aimed for the right target market and all efforts must be in line to harness the true spending potential of the target audience by making them realize that the brand under consideration is the one best suited for them to satisfy their need time and again. The different notions attached with selecting the right jingle are also a myth that has taken over the minds and hearts of the brand team. This is because there is basis for building a message that has to be conveyed to the right people at the right time and in the right capacity. All of these require aspects attention related with the equation of the marketing communications on a 360-degree approach. The aspects related with the understanding of the brand by the people for whom it is being presented in their relevant distribution outlets determine the eventual basis of success or failure. The important thing here is to rationalize the fact that the jingle does it all when the need is really felt for it to give something to the relevant target audiences. The sense of fearful sounds just adds up to the negativities that are attached with this phenomenon notwithstanding. However producing a jingle with a selective target market in mind is not an easy proposition.

Consumer Loyalty in Advertising Messages

When one speaks of a product which has the necessary ingredients in terms of its advertising like the proper message, much needed visuals to attract the target audience and the sound or music to bring freshness to it. Then there should be a realization for an aspect called consumer loyalty and retention is significant. Consumer loyalty is very specific to the hearts of the people who use the products and/or services. The loyalty to a brand raises a lot of questions that the competitors have to answer. These could be in line with their falling standards that the customer switched over to a loyal and more dedicated company. At other times, these are not able to come up to the market scene much earlier than the one which has taken a large share of the customers in any event. The people who are more loyal to a particular brand or a company cost much less to this company than the ones who have not yet touched on to the bandwagon of adopting the said product. But on the other hand, the question also raises up in the light of the discussion on the costs that are lesser for the loyal folks. These need to be reminded time and again of the products available in the market, as their cost somehow or the other equals to that of the ones which are being targeted upon so that they could adopt this product and satisfy their needs, wants and desires. Furthermore, consumer loyalty is a tangent that needs to be specifically seen in the light of the ever-changing consumer demands and these might just be short lived to start with. Jossey-Bass (Griffin, 2002) is of the view that consumer loyalty is something that the consumer might not easily tell to everyone. This is because positive word of mouth ratios are much lesser than the negative spread. This is due courtesy the word of mouth where it spreads like jungle fire, with respect to a particular brand’s usage, experience or the mere presence of it within the sights of the target audience due to negative past images and memories. (Kennedy, 1994) It gives the marketing communication practitioner room to maneuver his message and tailor it according to the needs and wants of the intended audience, on a repetitive basis. This also provides for a much more basic understanding of the consumer buying and spending patterns. It also provides the consumer interest with regards to the whole category and not to forget the mechanisms related with the usage of the product and the manners in which it is being used in the first place. Apart from these, the marketing communication practitioner dedicates his efforts whole-heartedly towards the understanding aspect of the customer. Add to that, his incisive details with relation to the product, the manner in which he makes use of it, the ideologies linked with customer’s picking the product off the shelves, whether or not he likes to have it from ‘over the counter’ stores or through superstores, etc too.

Consumer Loyalty in the wake of Fear Message Advertising

Consumer loyalty can be considerably vague at times since he might not be entirely dependent on a single brand. He can choose from a mixture of two to three brands or keep on switching the same from time to time. So this makes the job of the marketing communication practitioner all the more difficult. Consumer loyalty also means that the aspects of brand loyalty with relation to different brands, products and indeed the whole of the category come under it. It also means that consumer loyalty plays a big role in the marketing communication campaigns from time to time. These campaigns need to be fine-tuned with the loyalty levels of the consumers/customers. Furthermore, there are different levels which come under the heading of consumer loyalty. Among these are the hardcore loyals, the passively loyals, the changing lot and the ones who do not care just for the sake of changing. Hardcore loyals comprise of those individuals who do not change a brand no matter what happens. They stick to a single brand and do not make a purchase if the brand is missing from the shelves, hence these are the ones who have to be reminded again and again of the message that is being delivered by the company courtesy its brands (and products). The passively loyals are the people who buy the same brand more out of habit rather than reason. These individuals buy the same brand because it is the only brand that is available to them or because its different features make the consumers get attracted towards them for one reason or the other. The changing lot keeps on switching between different brands just for trying something new and fresh. This can happen because they want a change in their lives and have a knack for trying something fresh and novel. The marketing communication practitioners need to play their due role in the related scheme of things and more so where the patterns of consumer lifestyles and loyalties are concerned. Allen & Unwin (Sutherland, 2000) speaks that more focus should be given on the roles adopted by the consumers and the manners in which they are actually making the purchase in the first place. Also emphasis should be laid on the fact that the cutting edge scenarios are found out in order that the industry grows as a result of this and there is a lot of competition that can occur in the market. This will only help the consumers as it would provide for more options and hence the value delivery network would also improve as a result of these steps. The marketing communication practitioners need to understand the role of consumer loyalty in the whole equation and thus carry out measures, which run parallel with the consumer, demands, expectations and more so the needs that have to be satisfied. Consumer loyalty is something that can be best gauged from return purchases and having positive word of mouth for a particular product or brand on the part of a consumer nonetheless.

Basis of Shock Advertising

Now shifting attention on the aspect of shock advertising, we find out that its usage is considerably apparent in the related circles. This aspect is successful because people pay more attention to these commercials and watch them but then again it is a totally different subject altogether that whether these brands/products actually sell or otherwise. When it comes to the selling facet of these brands which make use of the fear aspect, there is a big difference between the two. People like to connect with the commercials and advertisements shown on television and printed in the newspapers and magazines, but they do not connect with the brand when it comes to the selling aspect. They generally abstain from buying these kinds of brands which give out a shocking and furious message within their advertising and a sense of hatred and disassociation is amply apparent from the selling phase of these brands/products. The personal responses to shock advertising are significant to understand since these are different with regards to the ever changing business needs and desires and then there is the aspect related with several businesses adopting the same model for the fulfillment of their objectives and aims. They want to come up with something new and excitingly fresh which could only be presented by shock advertising. At times this maligns the whole brand with the form of prejudices that customers have for the brand and indeed for the whole organization which is nothing but a total lack of understanding by the brand team itself.

Ethical Regimes in Shock Advertising

The subject of where the ethical boundaries could be drawn and where the curtain has to come up for the normalcy regimes is significant to see and analyze. This is because the customers know what they will be getting from the brand in the long run and if their initial response is one which is based on negativity and bias, they will surely abstain themselves from taking the vital purchase decision concerning the brand. This is even more significant in the context that they have to discern for themselves as to how much the brand will stray in terms of content of its value provision and quality and the set of commercials full of shock images that are shown. They need to pass a judgment about the standards of the shock advertising, which has come to their decision table, and hence they are the final judges who will either purchase the brand which is on sale. They could even reject the brand in a blatant manner, provided evidence by Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media, Vol. 48 (Kaye, 2004). Doing the latter would mean that they have dispelled the impression that shock advertising works and would tantamount to a complete lack of disregard for the basis of shock advertising as far as the brand communication and related values is linked. However all this requires complete confidence and attention of the consumers since they might not be ready to commit so much time to the basis of shock advertising and whether it works to the benefit of the brand or otherwise. This could be achieved by having questionnaires given to them or they could be researched upon through the use of surveys. They could also be made to sit in the form of focus groups where the moderator puts out open ended questions to them and hence seeks for responses which could entail just about anything. What this will do is to present an idea about the basis of the brand itself and link it with its significance as was envisaged at the time of designing the campaign which included images and sounds coming under the umbrella of shock advertising and its connected regimes. Quorum Books (Agres, 1990) is of view that personal responses would indeed facilitate the flow of inputs from these people. These people would be present in the focus groups and surveys since the brand team gets to find out just how much diversity it has in the form of its consumers when it comes to their brand and its emotional attachments.

Psychological and Marketing Aspects of Shock Advertising

The psychological and marketing aspects of shock advertising are something that needs to be studied in depth. These require definitive clarity so as to gain an idea what the target audience wants to see and what it does not like to associate itself, when it comes to brands and/or different products and services. There is a precise requirement for understanding the mindset of the target audience for which the product is being manufactured and thus brought into the market so that the sale could be made. Now the important thing is to realize the fact that shock advertising only brings more misery for the potential customers. This is because they see much evil and distress in the newspapers already and they least expect from an advertisement to give them shock images and fearful messages in the form of Dracula-like pictures and related images. What this does is to make them repel from the advertisement thus published in the newspaper and give up the whole idea of reading the message which has been conveyed by the brand team. This is interesting to understand since the target consumers do not know much whether this type of advertising is from their favorite brand of which they are hard loyal customers or from a new brand that has just entered into the market and is failing to grab their attention. But this type of advertising cannot be bracketed for the whole target audience for whom the advertisement is thus published. It might be possible that there are certain people within the related audience who do not feel offended by the images and would actually give into the message thus put out by the advertiser itself. But the chances of this to happen are minimal in comparison to what has been stated earlier. Thus the viewers’ and readers’ attitudes towards shock advertising are of the most significance and these must be met in a proper manner so as to have the highest possible attention laid on the advertisement itself. If the viewers and readers are not attentive enough, then there are 100% chances that the advertisement has failed in its mission to make itself heard in front of the relevant target audience. If this has been done and there is shocking content present within the advertisement, then there is a strong enough possibility that the readers are getting the hang of things. It also means that they are connecting well with the brand itself, not to forget the survival chances getting improved in line with the brand purchase decision that they are about to undertake sooner or later. The readers’ responses are also significant to derive because it is for them that the brand is in business and without them there would be no brand, let alone the organization producing the brand in the first place. All these facets require attention which can only be provided by the brand communication team and the top echelon present at the helm of affairs within the organization.

Models of Fear Messages and Shock Form of Advertising

The literature review for this dissertation would comprise of the different sets of models which are used in advertising of shock imagery. Also it would comprise of the related messages which are sent out and the ethical norms and considerations that need to be kept in check before one such message is delivered to the desired target audience. An advertising model and one connected to our discussion with shock message and related forms of advertising is the persuasive model. This asks of the consumers and the potential ones to invest in some time and energy towards seeking about the various features which are presented by the brand itself and then go to purchase this very brand for fulfilling their desire or need. What this means is the fact that persuasion has a huge role to play in the overall communication of the advertising message no matter it is from the shock therapy or comic treatment applied in the advertisement itself. This needs to build on a foundation for the company to see its brand succeed big time in the market with rivals having little or no profits. The base must be one that can have a structure so that when the wind blows, it does not hamper the smooth business of this brand at all. Therefore, one pivotal role is played by persuading these very customers and consumers into making that vital purchase and for that they need to be given the space that they want. This moment of truth is the eventual trice when the consumer goes out to a retail chain and makes a purchase. Advertising is part of social psychology and as we think about the convincing aspect of it, there is a direct connection here. Hence the branch of human psychology that deals with the behavior of groups and the influence of social factors on the individual is indeed the social psychology. People need to be given some benefit for their own selves so that they listen to or read the intended selling message or the advertisement. If they are not interested, then there is no use of selling the brand at all. Advertising creates the interest that eventually leads to the selling exercise. So in order to keep the product in the mind of the consumer, the selling message needs to be hit again and again in his mind till the time he makes the essential purchase of the product. Even then the advertising and marketing of the brand does not stop as selling back and forth is the ultimate motive of the business on the basis of which it stands. Therefore, this message has to be transmitted to the target people again and again so that they continuously buy their products. Therefore in the larger interest, this not only benefits themselves (the consumers) but also the company as it will have more profits and eventually a larger business share in the stock market and so on and so forth. For that reason, all this cannot be remarked as a one-time activity, it needs to be on a continual basis. Persuasion thus needs to be on a consistent basis and it needs to produce feelings and ideas in the mind of the person who is directly or indirectly getting influenced by it. In the case of advertising, this persuasion takes a psychological turn and proves to be very helpful in making the actual sale that is consequently very indispensable to comprehend here.

Understanding the Psyche of the Consumers in Shock Advertising

In shock advertising, it is essential to understand the psyche and capacity of the target audience to which they can take this kind of messages in their stride. They need to understand what is more important – the brand or the advertising that is done in its name? This is an important thing to get in their head since shock message is just a type of advertising that is going to make them realize that this brand exists in the market and it is there to satisfy their needs only. The brand does not wish to disrespect the target audience in any manner possible. The brand is only doing its best to get its message through to the right kind of people in its limited resources, without compromising on quality, sanctity of the message and the brand itself. It aims to see that the shock message advertising is actually building a solid rapport with the audience during this whole process regardless. However what the brand communication team has to understand during this while is to make sure that there are no ethical barriers which are crossed and they must limit their creativity in terms of reaching to the audience alone and not disrespect or bring to shame the audience. This is pertinent since the future sale considerations on the part of the potential customers and the ones who are the current users of the brand in more ways than one are dependent upon these very factors. Ethics and morals are very useful to know in such a situation since these help in devising different plans for the brand communication team and provide the guideline for effective reaching mechanisms as far as the brand team’s liaison with the target market is concerned. There are different consumer groups and bodies which are on the hunt of finding such advertisers which bring up messages that are not liked by a certain set of society and hence they are on the move to crack down on these kinds of shock messages. Lawrence Erlbaum Associates (Perse, 2001) states that the need of the hour is to comprehend the target audience in a complete manner and then only play with the creative juices (of the brand communication team). This is when they know considerably well that the maturity level of audience is pretty good and there would be no aftereffects leading to publication of shock messages.

The Customer Context in the Psychological and Marketing Aspects of Fear Messages and Shock Form of Advertising

The psychological and marketing aspects of the fear appeal bring to light the characteristic of understanding the customer, the brands and the overall business. The marketing angle is very loosely placed on the business’s operational basis since it knows a mistake here and the organization could lose on the customers in a quick time. This means that the organizations have to comprehend their due roles in the lives of the customers and what psychological changes their messages could bring in the lives of the audience they want to hit upon. The fundamental rights of the consumers must not be compromised upon and they must be presented the message in a manner which is not only creative but also open to ideas from the consumers’ point of view. The consumers need to connect with the message and if the shock form of advertising is able to do the very same, then one can easily call this type of advertising as a successful ploy nonetheless. The basics however must be touched upon back and forth by the brand communication team so that there are no shortcomings at any stage whatsoever. Shock imagery and advertising could indeed be termed effective when the audience is in its teenage years and is open to explosive games which are all about weapons and artillery. They are exposed to violent pictures and images on a daily basis. Thus the shock advertising does not come as a surprise for them and the entire concept could be flawed. This is because they are bound to pay no heed to such a similar offering from a leading brand in the market or to a product which is just about to enter the related market regimes. The compromise on the part of the brand team could be that they present the message in a manner which will attract their attention. This is something that could be reckoned as fresh and exciting and hence there is every possible chance that the success would be estimated as far as shock form of advertising targeted to the relevant target audience is concerned. It is known to one and all that the fear appeal brings in the concept of fright and rage amongst the general public and they are bound to feel awry after watching certain images that are full of shocking representations. What is best is to understand the psychological level of the people and then to gauge their maturity aspects and then only enter into the marketing of such pictures, images and graphics that are known to when and all as being comprised of violent graphical representations.

Social and Ethical Constructs with Shock Advertising

One needs to discern the fact that shock advertising is not related to the shocking images only. It could include within it the different forms of sex advertising as Lawrence Erlbaum Associates suggests (Lambiase, 2003). What this means is the fact that pornography and rape victims could be shown in the advertisements and thus a rave of fear and danger could be created within the target audience. Thus the moral and social boundaries in such form of advertising are pushed to the wall and a buzz is created as far as its ideology and execution is concerned. Further, there is the aspect of controversy which looms large on the part of the brand itself and this, in the world of today could work to the advantage of the brand team and the organization/company. As Journal of Public Relations Research, Vol. 6 (Cameron, 1994) states that bad publicity is created but then again as the marketing practitioners of today suggest there is no term like bad publicity and that publicity good or bad is after all publicity holds some ground. One can have learning from this very premise and start using shock imagery in advertising so as to make full use of the phenomenon we know as bad publicity or simply put as publicity. Publicity helps in free coverage of the brand and its campaign in the newspapers without even asking for space by the brand team and its media agency. The social circles have the talk of the town where they discuss the specific tactic best utilized by the brand itself in the form of violent graphics or shocking copy and tone, however used to the advantage of the brand and in the long run towards the organization itself. Controversy is usually very exciting for the sale of the brand in the market and the dispute is the only subject that can bring in more and more sales in an area or a market territory. There are certain sets of people within a society or a market domain who feel being different from the normal set of people. These people feel proud making the vital purchase which is linked with controversy and debate that is considered a complete no-no as far as the usual audience is concerned. This could work to the advantage of a brand which has its target audience in the form of people who are rebels and who have nothing better to do than whine and comment on the negatives of the system all day long. This brand can tailor its campaign and shock advertising message in such a way that they feel connected with it and hence there is a strong enough basis for their relationship. This would result in repeat sales of the brand by the hardcore loyal customer base and in the end the brand would flourish big time in the market. Thus the use of shock advertising and fear appeal could actually work to the advantage of certain products only if proper research is put into action. Also the brand team must ensure that their audience’s maturity levels are constantly monitored over a period of time. Correspondingly the decision to hit upon them the right message at the right time (the aperture concept) is pivotal to the eventual success or failure basis of the brand in the market. Quorum Books (Fulton, 1996) is of the view that fear appeal from a marketing and psychological standpoint is indeed the need of the hour. But this must be employed in small dozes rather than a sudden burst and later on disappearing from the market which gives an impression of a loser brand which came and failed in the market big time.

Images of Organizations Making Use of Fear Messages and Shock Advertising

The marketing images of those organizations making use of shock advertising and fear messages getting manifested is somewhat of an uncertain nature since the different audience groups divided by gender and social classes perceive this in considerably different manners. (Crane, 1965) Image of any company is basically what the target audiences and any set of people outside that target audience perceive it. It is controllable at times on the part of the organization but most of the times it is built by the customers, spokespersons and people who exercise some sort of authority in opinion building measures. Word of mouth also plays a huge role in this scenario and thus image remains in the mind of a person for as long as he is alive, unless changed by some sudden intuition or experiences that is either good or bad to what was experienced before. What the organization can build and incorporate itself is the identity through which it ensures every effort to remain loyal and active towards the customer. The basic aspect of fear messages having favorable responses from the target audience can be derived if these messages are sent out in an intelligent manner. What this means is the fact that communications and social psychology play an imperative part in the understanding of the transmission of these messages through a particular medium or in a combination of media channels, drivers and vehicles. The role of social psychology looks at the mannerisms through which people perceive the good and the bad, the ethically right and the morally wrong. For a number of years now, the endless possibilities that are offered by the fear appeal messages have been ignored on all counts. This has indeed tarnished the image of the companies and the brands who have run after incorporating the shock messages within their campaigns and the ones which have tailored themselves in line with giving out fear appeal messages. Research and related study into this aspect would have given food for thought and they would have known as to which aspects they should have covered and what must have been left behind for the benefits of the end consumers and the brand. This ultimately would have benefited the brand in the long run. Thus the unique persuasive abilities and the endless possibilities are the tangent which need to be touched upon in detail so as to harness the best returns that can be have as far as fear appeal messages and the interplay of shock advertising is concerned. The positive advertising appeals are so much different than these types of horror-filled stuff. They seem to rely more on the creative aspects and bring out the positive side of the brand yet the relation seems to touch a common ground when the talk goes out loud regarding the sale of the product itself. But then again there has to be an ethical angle which looks after the consumer rights that has become the buzzword within the relevant circles now. One must understand that it is the marketing angle which eventually fails a creative pursuit or makes it a winner out of nowhere. If the product is being sold and the demand is more than the supply, then the creative pursuit need not be changed. However if the organization is bent upon experimentation for the sake of experimentation alone, then it can wander off to the shock advertising regimes and thus construct a powerful tone filled with fear appeal message. This could have a dictum that is comprised of threatening the audience who is going to be the eventual sales base for the brand/service itself. Indeed this is full of risks as the competitors present within the market would take a U-turn against this brand. Also they could come up with similar or different offerings but what the best part about this aspect is that there would be a change in the related industry, and brands would start experiencing more and more towards this tangent all of a sudden. Fear appeals are usually not mentioned in the briefs of the clients which are handed over to the brand communication team present at the agency side. These people are usually told about having a fear appeal message so as to ignite the interest of the consumers and hence bringing a change in their mindset as a result of this. But it has been seen that the usual discussion of fear appeal messages is not made apparent on all counts which means that the brand practitioners are still hesitant with the idea of having shock advertising regimes incorporated for their brand.

Use of Fear Appeal Messages in Advertising

An Example of a Brand Making Use of Shock Advertising

French Connection United Kingdom (FCUK) is a brand which has attained huge recognition and fame since it is considerably synonymous with an expletive. The problem here is that there is no term such as bad publicity hence FCUK is playing upon the same theory. But when it comes to conservative parents, they raise concerns and draw the attention of everyone towards the expletive which is being used in a hidden yet clear manner. There were complaints received by UK’s advertising industry as people were generally against the very existence of this brand within their country. The parents believed that FCUK was making the teenagers and young ones into violent beings, which would only destroy the sanctity of the UK local publics and thus the social fabric due to these very expletives would be tarnished. (Mccullough, 1996) Thus the hidden meaning within the brand name and its message going out to the different sets of audiences came as somewhat of a shocking exercise and thus this brand stands out as the leading one. The basic purpose of shock advertising is to create the sense of attention that the brand wants for its own self. What this means is the fact that advertising agency team and the brand communication team go a bit too far in the quest of coming up with a perfect message. This would be tailored to meet the needs, wishes and wants of the target audiences in the best manner that there could be. They have to break the clutter and they believe this indeed is the way for them. In the mission of achieving high awareness and top of mind recall for the brand, what they forget is the fact that they touch the boundary line that has been drawn between the ethically right and morally wrong. They seem to cross what is dictated by the society as right and leap into the wrong zone. This is a difficult exercise to undertake but one that demands definitive study and research by agencies, brand communication teams and the gurus present at the helm of affairs and who are doing their bit at claiming shock advertising as a powerful tool bringing about a change for the better. This change must be such that it boosts the energies of the target audience in a positive manner and not such that the overall image and reputation of the brand is at stake. There must be measures, mechanisms and counter mechanisms to check for the trespassing as far as ethical norms and routines are concerned, coming under the advertising principles and rules.

What is so Shocking about Shock Advertising?

The thing, which is so shocking about this shock advertising, is the fact that it is coming out in the open and is being viewed by one and all that the general public is finding it hard to digest. It is largely similar to what Jerry Springer and Howard Stern are doing but what runs to their advantage is the fact that their audiences are pretty liberal and thus there is no hue and cry. Then there is the aspect of the audience getting used to a particular set of things, which we know in the present times as the norms of the society. If a certain form of advertising becomes a norm, then it is easy to suggest that the general public will take it in good stead. Also there would be no criticism coming from any quarter of the society but if the exact opposite happens, then there could be problems, which could literally shake the very basis of the brand, let alone its communication messages. There has to be a common ground on which the advertisers must remain and the general public needs to appreciate creativity. They must not feel shocked by varied forms of advertising coming under the shock regime but then again there is a limit to these kinds of commercials and press advertisements when one discusses the sorry saga of defining what is right and what is not.

Concept of ‘Shock-vertising’ in Relation with Another Example

Shock advertising is now-a-days famously known as ‘shock-vertising’. The reason for this is that it has now become a part of the advertising methods and procedures and hence there is interplay between the two. The advertisement shown below is what shockvertising is all about.

Use of Fear Appeal Messages in Advertising

The social message embedded in the copy of this advertisement is self explanatory where the brand/service is trying to inculcate feelings of achieving something in life at a young age and not being at the receiving end later on in life. However what the advertisement indeed shows is more of a shocking statement. It shows a young one holding a strong injection in his hand. This is so against the norms of society and this form of advertising is usually banned in different countries but since the message is strong and the visual helps to build it through in an out and out manner, it is complementing what is being stated in the advertisement. (Roskill, 1983) The interesting thing however is to note that the visual comes directly under the ethically wrong perspective and thus the whole message gets diluted and somewhat of a negative stance is adopted by the viewers. (Hinerfeld, 1990) The image of the brand/service hits the lowest levels and thus what was envisaged at the very beginning (at the time of preparing the advertisement) is now turning out to be an exercise in futility. The advertiser and the brand communication team needs to understand where it went wrong and what needs to be done in such a situation. Indeed there is a very fine line when dealing with shock advertising which needs to be taken care of, at all times. For each market that one talks about, the different perspectives to shock advertising are different and the brand team must take this in its stride before moving any further ahead. It needs to understand the people and the values more than anything else, which is indeed very basic and rudimentary. Journal of Advertising, Vol. 34 (Ratnatunga, 2005) is of the view that shock advertising is not always disturbing and it does not need to show images or have copy which gives out a fearful and exciting message. Rather it is comprised of something which was totally unexpected and was never envisaged or envisioned before delving into the process of creating the very advertisement.

Use of Fear Appeal Messages in Advertising

One more Example of Shock Advertising

This advertisement is basically a billboard which suggests that the man presented as the artwork has died and the copy gives the viewer an idea that this could be “you” if people continue smoking. Since this person has been shown alive but in essence is perceived to be dead, the fear appeal is transferred to the audience and they attach feelings of fear and shock after reading the copy. If they do not go through the copy, they might never know this person is dead or alive since he is shown to be in a living condition and quite stable as per the billboard. The blame for his death, according to the billboard copy is placed on the whole tobacco industry which gives out a clear cut meaning that this person died of throat cancer (as stated in the copy). The other possible diseases that could be have from smoking include heart attack, blood pressure and cancers of different kinds but then again all of these ailments are not mentioned in the billboard. The focus has been on the man himself and the reason that he is no more alive gives out a fearful message to the viewers. More so, as the advertising norms would usually be, the consumers and the different publics would usually criticize the authority for putting up such an advertisement. This is because it is against the societal norms to show a person who has died to become an epitome of self-neglect and carelessness on his part as well as his family. Thus the different ethical considerations need to be studied in line with the portrayal of a dead man on the billboard since the society, no matter whichever country it belongs to, would never appreciate such an idea to materialize. Since the concern here is on fear appeal message and shock advertising, one should believe that the advertisement has done its bit to transmit the message which it wanted to get across to the right target audience.

Why Usage of Shock Advertising is deemed Significant?

The general reason for the basis of shock advertising is indeed to break the clutter that is so very rampant in each and every advertising industry and the whole society so to speak. This clutter has been formed up by ‘me too’ brands and messages which come up with similar offerings, services and message appeals on a daily basis. These tarnish the reputation of the brands which have seriously worked on their campaigns and the ones which came in the very beginning and started the whole process of change within the relevant market domains. The change need not be necessarily the message one, but it could also be from a thinking mindset of the people, the usage of colors in such a manner that it would create more appeal and demand gaze proportionally. Journal of Advertising Research, Vol. 43 (Dahl, 2003) suggests that there are certain occasions where shock-vertising can be used and then there is the conservative approach where it must not be used but it is in order to fulfill the desires of the top management. They might just negate the very norms and procedures as laid down by the brand communication team and the rulebook and thus overrule these factors so that they could satisfy their thirst of seeing something new, attractive and ‘different’ from the rest. What they forget is that they risk their image during this process of experimentation and adventure and this could very easily go against the company’s mission and vision statements which at times are set in hindsight. Shock-vertising can work only if the related audience is mature enough to understand what is right and what is not. It must be measured within the ethical considerations which are set by a particular society. Shock-vertising runs the risk of diluting the image of the brand and the whole related communication messages that are sent out by the brand team. The organization runs the risk of losing out its share to the competitors present in the market since the outbreak could be immense and people’s expectations could be so much more, and different. One needs to comprehend where the line needs to be drawn and this is indeed the boundary line. A creative idea and its related execution is nothing if the company loses out on its clientele and the potential audiences run away from it even before they have bought the product or tried the service to suit their needs and fulfill their wishes and desires. Shock advertising needs to be kept in check so that the message is not overdone and there is enough room for the audience to understand the message and more than that digest the offering thus made available. It is imperative to underline the basic needs and aspirations of the organization which it wants to attain from the brand itself and after these have been attained, then it can openly and freely experiment with the notions of shock advertising, fear filled messages and so on. It is without a shadow of a doubt that shock-vertising looks pretty attractive and full of exciting prospects in the beginning. However it is of no use whatsoever if the brand fails to attract more sales and is a complete lose-lose activity if the sales drop way below the expected mark.

Role of Fear Messages and Shock Advertising on Target Audience

Fear appeal messages create anxiety and a sense of distress within the audience. They seek to disturb the attention of the audience in a manner that the people will find out more about the brand and its campaign. They would also trace the intended message and hidden meaning and hence they will get to know about the brand in entirety and how best it can meet their needs. The use of threats and accusing messages in an advertisement means that the audience will pay attention. However it is a totally different matter altogether that the audience can feel agitated by this form of advertising and more so when it is getting the same form of communication and messages from a number of different products/brand/services. The clutter aspect seems to crop in the whole equation as a result. The threats that are hidden within this fear appeal messages mean that the audience is being made to stimulate an attitudinal change within its own self and thus the brand is doing so much more to help the audience alter its very mindset. As A Journal of Research, Vol. 40 (Merskin, 1999) suggests that safe sex is one form of advertising which makes use of fear appeal most effectively. What this means is the fact that people are told of the negative aspects that could lead to the troubles one can have in the wake of not following a safe sex regime. Thus similar patterns of advertising are witnessed in safe sex commercials every now and then. When one speaks of the HIV/AIDS campaigns, the shock form of messaging is pretty evident. The fear appeal is so used so as to tell the audience that this indeed is the deadliest disease present on earth today and it kills more people than any other epidemic hence makes all the more reason to keep away from the factors that could lead to HIV/AIDS. The usual advertising for HIV/AIDS shows a patient who is depicted as an HIV/AIDS infected individual and who is lying on the deathbed presenting a testimonial of his ordeal and the manner through which others could be saved. During this while, past pictures would be demonstrated in flashback where he used to be an active member of the society but the same is not the case anymore and now he is waiting for his death to happen. During this while he would be shown to have tears in his eyes and this indeed is a sign of fear appeal. Thereby the advertiser gives out the message that if a person does not listen to this HIV/AIDS infected patient, he might also turn out to be one of a similar kind. It is a common element of fear appeal messages that they make use of high end graphics and voices which will make the audience feel fearful and there would be anxiety within the people who are watching such a commercial. This is what the advertiser and the brand communication team has envisaged and the same is in essence the real intent and purpose behind making the very advertisement in the first place. Routledge (Lewis, 2003) presents the rationale that even the language and tone that is applied in the fear appeal messages is strong enough for a normal viewer. This makes all the more reason that the advertiser planned this and the brand communication team developed the specific theme line to satisfy the already set goals and/or strategies. Similarly, the low fear appeal messages have incorporation of ordinary language and a mild tone is used and this applies to all forms of advertising. (Eechambadi, 1994) When fear appeal messages are further studied, one finds that the sexual appeal messages which have fear aspect linked up within them have a strong sense of dislike as far as the women are concerned. This is however not the case when one examines the desires of the male gender according to the Sex Roles: A Journal of Research, Vol. 49 (Shaffer, 2003). They seem to have a strong sense of liking for such advertisements and thus it puts the advertiser in a fix as to how he could segregate the target audience on the basis of gender differences. (Gordon, 1993) In fact this works to the advertiser’s advantage if the brand’s core target audience is indeed male and it has no relation with females whatsoever, neither in terms of purchase decisions nor usage. This could be true for shaving razors and shaving creams and hence fear appeal messages with a sexual touch could be best employed within such domains. What is more important is the fact that similar form of advertising is actually being used for a number of years now, provided evidence by Message Reinforce Sexual Stereotypes, 1997 in the USA Today (Society for the Advancement of Education, Vol. 126)


In the end, it is very significant to discern the fact that the question does not linger on the view regarding fear appeal message’s ability to sell or not. Rather the focus is such that it asks the query related with the usage of shock advertising in order to have that vital purchase done by the customer. This needs to be enacted in a manner which has no linkage whatsoever with doubts and confusions on the part of the brand team. They need to make bold decisions and this could only be done if their thinking is set in a proper manner where long term goals are more significant than the short term incentives. The rapport with the customers must be the top key for these brand people since if these cut down, the whole path towards the sale and the repeated purchases would come to an end. Also the hard core loyal people would sway away their acquaintances, friends and family members from buying one such brand which they like to dissociate now. Shock advertising usually works but it is up to the brand managers and the advertising agency gurus as to how effectively they can make use of them so that the audiences do not run away from the brand itself which is making use of shock advertising and fear appeal messages. If this happens, it is a sure case of a lost cause and no one is a winner in the end. All said and done, attempts and efforts must be made in the right direction so as to ignite interest from everyone and not to bend the interest levels of the potential customers of the brand in entirety. After all, Journal of Advertising Research, Vol. 36 (Latour, 1996) gives full permission to make use of fear messages in advertising and it is of the view that one should not be afraid to employ such fear related strategies in marketing and advertising communications.

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