Are You Afraid of This Ad?

What motivates us as human beings? What hits us at our very core? It is greed, love, power? For thousands of years, stories have been told about the desires and emotions that drive human existence. Good advertisements latch on to our deepest emotions and make us act.  One theme that plays over and over in these types of ads is fear.

For many years fear has been a part of advertising. In the 1950’s women were told they could lose their husbands if they didn’t keep their skin looking fresh:

Fear was used in advertising to women in the 1950's

The infamous “Daisy” ad used in the 1964 presidential election between Lyndon B. Johnson and Barry Goldwater warned that if voters didn’t choose Johnson, their children could be killed in nuclear war.

And fear is still being used in ads today, though it has taken some interesting turns. Have you heard the theory that most teenagers believe they are invincible? How about that as a society, we have become reckless and irresponsible? How about YOLO? In this day and age, many advertisers are trying to scare us back onto the right path, and save us from our irresponsible selves.

Anti-smoking campaigns have long been designed to scare us. Perhaps because the cigarette industry went from innocent producer to evil giant, or perhaps because so many smokers know the consequences but start anyways, anti-smoking ads are blunt, real, and yes, frightening.

The CDC has released a campaign called “Tips From Former Smokers.” These ads show real people and the real consequences their smoking caused.

Drunk driving ads are also being designed to frighten us, and they are getting more and more shocking in order to grab our attention. The U.K.’s Department of Transportation and Leo Burnett created a campaign that took a frightening “prank” played in real life and turned it into a public service announcement.

And, in reaction to more modern problems, advertisers have tried to frighten us (particularly young people) into putting down our phones and not texting and driving.  This ad, from AT&T, is just one example.

What sets these ads apart is that, in one way or another, they are real. They include real people in a real situation, or that something very real has happened to. They are designed to wake us up, make us admit the truth, and scare us into stopping our bad habits and behaviors.

As new dangers find us and old ones fade away, it’s purely up to our imagination to decide how marketers will scare us straight in the future.


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