On the Psychology of Marketing: Fear, Anxiety, Profit?

The psychology behind marketing and sales

Whether a flyer for your local restaurant or a million dollar Madison Avenue campaign, marketing succeeds by stimulating triggers in your psychological make-up. “Save money.” “Feel better about yourself.” “Eat.” Often the flashpoint marketers want to reach in order to get you to act is found in your anxiety and fears – fear of being left behind, not being “good” enough, not being a part of what everyone else is doing. Whether this is ultimately good or bad is debatable, but as consumers we should be aware of how and why we spend our money. Caveat emptor. It is also something to consider when you as a marketer of your own business are shaping your brand and business culture. An essential question is do you want to meet the needs of consumers by playing off of their insecurity, anxiety or fear of the future?

The latest crop of television ads, mostly for smartphones or tech gadgets, portray people hopelessly outdated and behind the times because they don’t have constant access to pics or information that happened only seconds before. They sit sadly in the dull past of a few moments ago while their friends gloat and brag about their knowing the latest thing. AT&T’s 4G network bases their new campaign on the slogan “Don’t be left behind” – ine commercial even plays off the punchline: “That’s so 2 seconds ago.” Samsung and others are using the same approach. The fear these companies are targeting is the current, media-fed, universal concern that we are overwhelmed in a sea of quickly changing technological advancements and must struggle to stay on top of the latest trends. It is an impossible task – one that over time we will come to terms with by realizing no one can or should be on top of EVERY tech innovation. But that time has not arrived yet… we have an emotional reaction to each new app, social media site, or tech gadget that we PERCEIVE to have been adopted by all the folks on the cutting edge, therefore meaning we have failed to stay current. We’ve always tried to keep up with the Joneses, but the pace of change has made that more and more difficult.

Now the flip side of this argument is that these companies are offering you the chance to make your life easier, to stay current – rather than putting you down for not having their timesaving invention they are offering you the chance to join their team, to be part of the in-crowd. Yet the tool being used to push your emotional buttons and incite you to action is an assault on your sense of security, an attempt to speak to your fear of being left behind.

You can see this tactic throughout advertising – sometimes subtely but frequently in an unapologetic effort to make consumers feel less than whole. Are you young enough, pretty enough, thin enough? Do you dress well, have fresh breath, a clear complexion? Don’t be overweight, bald, depressed, tired, hungry, uneducated, out of touch, out of fashion. Compare yourself to these young, rich, sexy, carefree, overachieving images – feel inferior, and then react by consuming.

Not all advertising works through this channel. Marketing can appeal to the more noble aspects of the consumer and can be the basis for providing people with information they need to improve their lives, health, and self concept. Truly believing in your product or service is a great home base for starting your marketing message. A great example of a well-known campaigns that begins with this starting point is L’Oreal – “because you’re worth it,” currently celebrating its 40th year. Dove launched its Campaign for Real Beauty campaign featuring “non-traditional” or more full figured models and sought to reach women by encouraging their self esteem rather than playing to their insecurities. The first few years saw an increase in sales, but eventually the campaign tanked and critics noted Dove did not stay true to it’s insistence on the “realness” of beauty! Note that self-esteem seems to be an enemy of cosmetic and beauty supply sales!

Much marketing seeks to meet the very real needs of consumers with an appeal to logic and financial sense rather than an emotional appeal. Whenever a store offers a coupon, sale or merchandising discount, they are offering a benefit to the consumer which will save them money. It is an encouragement to make a rational decision in your own best interest which also benefits the seller. In a competitive marketplace however, marketers have learned the power a psychological approach.

The psychological component of successful marketing is a rich and interesting field. As you seek to market your own business, service or online venture, give yourself the time to consider the “voice” of your brand, the conversation you will be having with your public. Playing to fear and anxiety has proven a successful marketing strategy, but it is also not the only successful one. Many times humor is used to let us laugh at ourselves rather than feel criticized. It is essential that you be aware of the voice you give your brand. Something to consider!


Rely on your printer for advice and direction in shaping your brand and bringing it to life. They should be able to provide you with everything from encouragement all the way to the complete design, layout, copywriting, production, multi-purposing and distribution of your marketing outreach. If they can’t, you have the wrong printer! The best advice, always, is to ASK YOUR PRINTER!

ImageSmith is a full-service print and marketing provider located in Arden, North Carolina. Contact us at ImageSmith for quotes on all your marketing projects, and more useful tips on how to create custom, effective, high impact marketing solutions.