Does Your Marketing Message Have the Fear Factor?

The midnight hour is close at hand
Creatures crawl in search of blood
To terrorize y’alls neighborhood

The foulest stench is in the air
The funk of forty thousand years
And grizzly ghouls from every tomb
Are closing in to seal your doom

And though you fight to stay alive
Your body starts to shiver
For no mere mortal can resist
The power of fear in marketing.

Vincent Price – from Thriller

That isn’t actually how Thriller starts, but it’s true. If you want to get through to your readers, few things are more powerful than marketing that really has the fear factor. Because if you really want to connect with a potential customer, there are few better ways of getting through than speaking directly to that most powerful of emotions.

Fear is a Motivator

“Fear of ageing, fear of loneliness, fear of poverty, fear of failure. Fear is the most basic emotion we have. Fear is primal. Fear sells.”

Breckinridge “Breck” Scott: Max Brooks’ World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War

You don’t need to wait for the hordes of the living dead to turn up at your reader’s door before you can start playing on their fears. You can start right now. Because fear is a powerful motivator.

In “Persuasive Copywriting” Andy Maslen outlines six primary emotions which, if triggered correctly, bypass your reader’s conscious mind and form a connection with them on a deeper level. Fear is one of these emotions. And as anyone who’s leapt behind the sofa when a monster looms onto their TV screen will tell you, fear might just be the most effective.

But that doesn’t mean you need to fill your website with pictures of spooky skeletons, or pay extra for a pop-up ghost to lunge out of your leaflets. Instead, you need to find out what scares your potential customers and craft a message that speaks directly to these fears.

And the two main fears you can use to your advantage are the fear of pain and the fear of missing out.

Fear of Pain

Let’s get something straight. We’re not talking about putting the thumbscrews onto readers. Well, not literally.

I’m talking pressing on about your reader’s pain points.

A pain point is a problem, real or perceived, that your customer is experiencing. If you’re a freelance copywriter, that pain point may well be your client’s inability to put together a compelling sales message. If you’re selling washing detergent, then your customer’s fear of walking into a meeting wearing the faded remains of a curry spill from three washes ago.

Your marketing materials need to focus on that pain point and identify the problem.

Storytelling is a real help here. So unleash your inner Steven King and put together a frightening tale where all of your reader’s most painful fears come true. If you can craft a horror story worthy of any Halloween midnight showing, your customer will be unnerved, sweating profusely from the palms, and hanging on your every word…

Fear of Missing Out

For some industries and customer personas, there’s a fear that’s even more prevalent than pain. In fact, it’s so rife amongst the social media generation that it has an acronym that will reduce even the owner of the most popular Instagram feed in England to shivering tears.


The fear of missing out.

If everyone else is having a better time than you, it can turn your spine to jelly. Your friends are all at the hot new dirty food and cocktail emporium, and you’re on the couch with a crisp butty. They’re wearing the latest clobber, and you’ve spilled crisp crumbs over your old dressing gown. No wonder they’re more handsome, popular and exciting.

It gives me goosebumps just thinking about it.

But FOMO isn’t limited to consumer products and entertainment venues. It can be a powerful asset for b2b messages too. After all, what business owner doesn’t go pale with fright at the thought of missing out on business?

Whichever fear you decide to play on, make sure you don’t ham it up. Just make sure there’s some creeping unease in your client’s mind as they move into the final act of your spooky story.

Freedom From Fear

Because now it’s time for a hero. That fear of pain, or of missing out is beginning to rear up in your reader’s mind like a huge Alien behemoth. So you’re going to strap on your power loader and flush those fears straight out of the airlock.

Because it’s not fear that really sells. It’s the freedom from fear. And if you craft your messages properly, that’s exactly what your product or service is going to do.

Your customer is shaking in her boots because her clients are all going to choose the competition? Here comes your marketing service to save the day.

Your reader is on the verge of quivering tears because he’s scared that girls won’t think he’s cool? Good job your designer jacket is here to put some swagger back into his step.

And if your target audience is comprised of primitive screwheads frightened to their core by the horde of walking corpses beating down their door? Well, here’s an advert that’ll put that fear right to bed:

Once your marketing message has the fear factor, all of your readers are going to sleep a little more soundly. Because your offering will have freed them from their fears.

Give it a go. You might find that it works so well that it’s, well, spooky.

Do you like scary marketing? Share your favourite chilling examples of great fear factor content in the comments section.

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