Is fear persuasive?

The Y2K effect, global terrorism, the fall of the Twin Towers, economic recession, stock-market crash, weapons of mass destruction, bird flu… bad, bad vibes! With all these messages bombarding us constantly, it’s no wonder we live in a state of anxiety… And the fact is that fear sells, which is why fear is the message most widely publicised by the media.

Michael Moore, in his documentary about 9-11 talks about the theory of fear affecting North American society and which George W. Bush exploited so much to his advantage in the last elections. We only need to think of the bad vibes we are all getting from the Traffic Department?s advertising campaigns which blatantly ask us: Do you think you will die on the road? to see the impact that fear can have on all of us.

Why exploit fear? On a daily level, fear can also affect the decisions we take. Andrew Chak, in his book, Submit Now, identifies two bases for motivation:

  • Desire for a reward
  • Fear of punishment

According to Chak, the reward emphasises the advantages of the product but does not motivate us directly to take action. We do, however, react immediately to fear of punishment. In behavioural economy this is known as the ?aversion to loss? effect: we are more willing to avoid losses than to gain advantages. This ?irrational? (according to economic theory) behaviour explains, for example, why an investor will not sell shares if it means that he will lose money, even though the loss may be greater later.

Let?s imagine a typical situation where we are looking for a hotel for a holiday. The agency has two options:

  • It can create an idyllic situation where it reinforces the benefits of a visit to the hotel by saying that it will be an ideal place for relaxing during the holidays.
  • It can create a feeling of pressure by saying that there are very few rooms left at the current price.

Which will motivate us to book the hotel? Well, the fear of losing an excellent opportunity will be what makes us take the decision. An interesting technique, this: creating a feeling of urgency by referring to expiry and scarcity.

Our offers do not need to stay in place forever. Let?s make it clear that the price or conditions we are offering for a specific product will not always stay the same. By adding the expiry date we put a little extra pressure on our users. That is what Amazon does with its Gold Box offers: personalised offers with a particular twist: they disappear after 60 minutes. A countdown clock tells us how many minutes we have left in which to make a decision.

Another option is to play on the idea of scarcity. Let’s imagine a flight search engine which includes the number of seats available. That?s exactly what they do in Rumbo. If there are only a few seats left, we have to take a decision quickly. Simply because we are afraid it will get away.

Por si te perdiste estos imprescindibles