Fear marketing is rampant in Korea society now. Of course, it may give us strong message but it makes us consume unnecessary emotions sometimes.
/Illustrated by Cho Moon-kyung
The video, “Sillim-dong, Creepy Psychopath, CCTV Real Situation” which makes headline in Korea, was actually a self-produced video by a man who began a start-up business. The incident in the video occurred when a man wearing a Pierrot mask tried to break into the home of women living alone. The video shows the man running away with a courier package and the woman feeling threatened. The man in the video targeted areas where there are many crimes against women living alone. However, the video clip has been controversial as it has been revealed that the man is trying to promote his business. It was a share service for parcel delivery, and he wants to advertise his business item using in the way what is known as “fear marketing.” This new strategy in marketing is becoming widely used, and is spreading rapidly.
What is the Fear Marketing?
“Fear marketing,” also known as “fear appeal,” refers to marketing that utilizes consumers’ fear. The fear that is instilled in consumers, includes not only fear of factors that threaten their physical health, but also psychological factors such as anxiety and nervousness. Furthermore, worrying about making a bad impression is also a part of fear marketing.
The current status of fear marketing is rampant
Fear marketing is mainly used in advertising for public service purposes. A recent anti-smoking advertisement conducted by the Ministry of Health and Welfare, mentions a typical condition that can be caused by smoking and shows people suffering from the disease. This has caused people to fear that they could suffer physical damage if they continue smoking. In addition, the entire seat belt campaign advertisement clearly shows the devastating effects of traffic accidents when people do not wear their seat belts. It creates a sense of fear that people can be seriously injured or killed if they do not wear seat belts. As such, fear marketing makes advertisers more powerful and their advertising more effective because they convey messages through the installation of fear.
There is also education-related fear marketing. This includes the areas of private education and early education. Korea is a country that has robust business in private education and early education. It is not surprising that fear marketing is being used to promote private education and early education. Academies use fear marketing to instill the idea in parents that if their child does not do it now, the child will get behind and cannot catch up later. Also, they emphasized that their child is the only one who is not listening to the lectures. So Dam-lee, the junior of the Buddhist major in the Department of Fine Arts commented, “When I was in high school, I had anxiety about my grades and I heard that if I listen a famous online lecture, my grades will go up.” She added, “However, my grades did not go up even though I took them.” She complained that “Come to think of it, I think I was hooked on the fear marketing strategy.”
Food and drug-related fear marketing is prevalent in society as well. Gluten-free food is an example. Gluten free products are intended for gluten-resistant patients who cannot digest gluten, which has high flour content. However, companies promote gluten-free products by causing fear. They mislead consumers into believing that gluten itself is a bad ingredient. There is also a lot of fear marketing related to health. “Chlorella” and “spirulina” are the examples. At the time when “fine dust” was a widely-discussed subject in society, and people were nervous and fearful about their health because of fine dust pollution, these products have arisen to take advantage of people’s fear. Advertisers insist that people should eat these products because they have anti-oxidation effects and when fine dust builds in on their bodies, these products can defeat the inflammation caused by the toxicity. They also claim that the chlorophyll contained in these products can discharge even heavy metals from the body to positive effect. On the other hand, there are some people who have doubts as there have been no tests to prove that the products, such as Chlorella and spirulina, combat the effects of fine dust emissions in any way. This is an example of a situation in which people are instilled in fear and thus sold a product with unproven results.
Lastly, there was the controversy regarding MSG. As the rumor spread that MSG is not good for the body, there was a tendency to look for food excluding MSG. However, the Korea Food and Drug Administration (KFDA) proved that the controversy of MSG was not relevant as the marketing that condemned it used untested information, and the KFDA went so far as to disprove one of advertiser’s marketing strategies by guaranteeing its safety. Also, the KFDA concluded that some products that exclude MSG included more harmful ingredients because they used unhealthy synthetic condiments.
Fear marketing degrades consumers’ rational judgement
Fear marketing causes problems in a society where it is widespread. It degrades consumers’ rational judgment. This is also linked to moral issues, as victims are mentally affected. This is because it causes consumers to focus on anxious emotions and become mentally overloaded. This unstable state of mind makes consumers spend unnecessary amounts, leading to overspending. This case includes health-related products that make people concerned about their health and insurance products that make people worry about the future. It makes consumers spend money on things that they do not actually need. So Dam-lee said, “I think I had a lot of experience to buy some products without knowing it was a fear marketing.” She added, “I have experience of spending time with skepticism about my health as I tend to believe in Facebook advertising marketing.”
It spreads false knowledge in society
Fear marketing is spreading false knowledge in society. This is the case with the aforementioned controversy of MSG being unhealthy and the misunderstanding that gluten is bad for the body. As such, fear marketing propagates false knowledge in society and promotes untested information through advertising as if it were true. As such, advertisers are also guilty of spreading knowledge that could possibly harm people directly. Lee Seung-min, the junior of the Division of English Language & Literature said, “I think the advertisement gave us a feeling that we could be better off without taking medicine and that it was healthier to eat natural nutritional supplements.” She added, “So, for example, when I have a cold and have a sore throat, I tried to eat natural nutritional supplements without taking any medicine and get some of it, however I have never checked whether it is the right way to stand against cold.”
There is no clear standard to regulate fear marketing now
This marketing strategy is difficult to regulate and the regulatory standard is also ambiguous. It is not easy to regulate the information because an offending company removes information, selects it cleverly, and advertises it. Also, proving an exaggerative advertisement is difficult. For instance, the aforementioned case of using a product to fight the effects of toxic air pollution, chlorella, is one such case. In principle, advertisers cannot sell anything other than the products approved by the KFDA. If they do, they will be punished. However, chlorella companies use information that is in their favor that touts the results of chlorella and spirulina, which are recognized by the KDFA. Thus, it is very difficult to regulate exaggerated advertisements that mislead consumers easily since advertisers make information look plausible. The exaggerated advertisements’ regulations are difficult because the criteria for judging them are in ambiguous language. Considering the law related to exaggerated advertisement, the suggested words are abstractive. For example, if advertiser did ‘unfair tempt’ advertising or ‘consumer deceptive’ advertising, they will get a penalty. However, the word is so abstractive since it is hard to regulate. As such, the standard for regulating exaggerative advertisements generated by fear marketing is ambiguous. Therefore, it is difficult to regulate the situation.
Choi Yung-kyun, the Professor of the Department of Advertising & Public Relation said, “In order to avoid restrictions on the Public Education Normalization Act, which is the law that bans advertising activities on prior learning, academies are appearing instead of openly advertising for prior learning.” He added, “They packaged the word prior learning as “psychological learning,” “tailored education,” and “special education” to avoid punishment.” Also, he commented, “Considering this case, it is estimated that there will be far more academies with the potential to advertise prior learning by provoking people’s fear.”
Of course, there is a positive side to fear marketing for the purpose of gaining public interest as it delivers messages more effectively. However, there should be more active discussion of fear marketing in light of the many negative aspects. According to Professor Choi, the degree of regulation is very different in that false advertising directly causes psychological and physical harm to consumers who believe and act on the expression as true. The social benefits of regulating not only advertisements based on false information, but also advertisements that slander competitors without grounds, or exaggerated advertisements that deceive consumers can be greater than the business damage caused by restrictions.
Professor Choi said, “Therefore, it seems desirable to regulate
fear marketing in a way that predicts the potential for misunderstanding, falsehood and deception that is caused by consumers, based on the level of fear given by advertising, within the current framework of false and exaggerated advertising regulations.”
Cho Moon-kyung firstname.lastname@example.org
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