What is the Fear Appeal?

The fear appeal is one of roughly twenty advertising strategies that marketing professionals use to persuade people to buy a product, pay for a service, donate to a cause, or otherwise be persuaded. The Fear Appeal persuades people to feel that they are assuming a risk if they do or do not purchase a certain product. The idea is that if consumers don’t use the product you are advertising, you make them feel like there may be undesirable consequences as a result.

When Should I Use the Fear Appeal?

The fear appeal is increasing in popularity and can be used for a variety of purposes, particularly if there are consequences for not purchasing a product. For example, if you sell fire extinguishers and your advertising strategy is to show how you may save your family members’ lives if you have an extinguisher during a fire, you are appealing to a fear in consumers that if they don’t buy a fire extinguisher, they are risking their family members’ lives. Note that there are ethical considerations when appealing to people’s fears; it’s not always in the best interest of a company to make their consumers be fearful of something that really has little or no risk at all.

How Do I Apply the Fear Appeal in Advertising?

When creating advertisements and visual communications focused on persuading audiences through the Fear Appeal, use images and phrasing designed specifically to evoke fear or concern. You might think to the famous no-smoking ads where people had developed serious deforming illnesses from smoking. The images of people with holes in their throats, missing teach, ruined vocal cords, and lung cancer were designed to make people fear smoking. The same has been done with seatbelt campaigns and similar concepts.

Examples of Fear Appeals in Action