Is it your job as a marketer to instill fear into the hearts and minds of the audience that you are trying to reach? While I might not necessarily agree with most of the companies that need to rely on this tactic in order to attract new customers, fear is a very real and effective marketing tool. It’s a common practice for insurance companies, drug companies, and the healthcare industry. Often times, they’re trying to sell the idea that you are not as safe as you think you are in order to get people thinking about a subject that they would otherwise ignore completely.

If your primary marketing message hinges on instilling fear, here are 5 easy steps to help get you the results you’re looking for:

Real Life Examples

The use of real people who have been struck with some sort of tragedy or heartache, who you were either able to help, or whose distress you would have been able to prevent, will most certainly capture the attention of people in all walks of life. We can relate to real people a lot better than hypothetical situations. Tell their tales in your ads, on your website, and to potential clients and customers.


When you’re missing real people and real stories, what-ifs are a great way to fill in the gaps. A properly executed hypothetical situation can still have an impact, if it’s aimed at the right audience. Make sure the “fictional” story is relatable. If I’m the owner of a small business with a lot of data stored on my hard drive, I can relate to the hypothetical need to protect that data as much as an actual instance of someone losing their data.

Use Sensory Clues

Dark or muted colors, the sound of rain or a heart monitor or someone crying, a photograph of someone with a look of regret – they all can be used to signal fear. The best example I can give of this is the latest anti-smoking commercials in my hometown of New York City. A coughing, wheezing, whining man is off-screen, so that we can only hear the absolute pain he is going through, until we come up behind him to see he is confined to a wheelchair, hooked up to a breathing tube, and struggling to survive. It’s so powerful I’ve been known to turn it off if I hear it coming.

Show the Light

A big part of marketing fear is also marketing the light at the end of the tunnel. The fear is meant to induce a preventative action, so the result of that action should also be a part of the marketing message. Don’t show the darkness without leading them to light.

Don’t Go Too Far

Don’t be so dark, or evil, or scary, or disgusting that your message loses all meaning. A great example of this is in the television commercials for Cancer Treatment Centers of America. They’re “real-life” stories depict people who describe their “experience” with doctors at other hospitals as being so totally awful that they become unbelievable. Even if they provide better care, the message is lost on me because I immediately lose respect for the ad.

Bonus: If you’re interested in marketing your experience, or any other aspect of your business, I’m here to help. Use the submission form to tell me about yourself today and I’ll give you the first hour free.