A LUXURY

Fear a commodity, no need to buy it

It is in marketing and politics the most where fear is a commodity.

In Summary
  • Marketers find what you’re afraid of, subtly make you feel worse and then turn right round and tell you their product or service will make you feel better.
  • As for politicians, they peddle uncertainty, the fear of the unknown and then offer themselves up to guide you through the muddle.
To fear is one thing. To let fear grab you by the tail and swing you around is another.
Katherine Paterson

cursory glance at a dictionary describes fear as an unpleasant emotion caused by the threat of danger, pain, or harm.

Look a little deeper into fear and you will discover the purpose of fear is to promote survival. Fear alerts us to the presence of danger and it was critical in keeping our ancestors alive. This is because in the course of human evolution, the people who feared the right things – snakes, animals with sharp teeth, bright berries no other animal bothered to eat, and such like suspect things, survived to pass on their genes.

There are two types of fear: Real and imagined. Real fears are about basic survival and physical pain avoidance, like being afraid of a car running you over. Most of our fears, however, are in the mind and it’s this imagined fear, alongside its first cousins anxiety, envy, insecurity, uncertainty and ego, that are sold and bought like any other commodity. Mind you not an essential commodity but a luxury – something you don’t really need but buy anyway.

It is in marketing and politics the most where fear is a commodity. In marketing, fear trading began with marketer Edward Bernays in the 1920s. Bernays happened to be Sigmund Freud’s nephew and Freud, the founder of psychoanalysis, believed that people’s fears and insecurities drove them to make bad decisions, and to overindulge in order to compensate for what they felt they lacked.

It was Freud who first argued that, at the end of the day, humans are impulsive, emotional and irrational, and using his uncle’s ideas, Bernays understood that if you tap into people’s insecurities and fear, needle at their impulses and emotions, they will become irrational and buy anything you tell them to.

Marketers find what you’re afraid of – fear of poverty, social isolation, rejection, inadequacy, failure – they subtly make you feel worse and then turn right round and tell you their product or service will make you feel better. The idea is people will spend money on things that make them feel good, after you’ve done a first-rate marketing job of making them feel bad in the first place.

This is why make-up is marketed to women as a way to be more attractive, thus get more attention in order to be loved. It is why alcohol is marketed as the way to have fun and be the centre of attention at a party, ergo fear of missing out, rejection, social isolation solved, and ego stroked. It is also why models in adverts are impossibly attractive, to make you feel inadequate to begin with.

As for politicians, they peddle uncertainty, the fear of the unknown and then offer themselves up to guide you through the muddle. Follow me, is the underlying message, do as I say, they tell you, and you will not be lost in uncertainty, the unknown will not gobble you up. But if you don’t follow me and do as I say…

Fear will never go away. It is hardwired into our genes. But like any other commodity you don’t have to buy it because it’s there. And if you do buy it, you don’t have to keep it.

To fear is one thing. To let fear grab you by the tail and swing you around is another – Katherine Paterson.