Sep 30, 2011


In marketing fear is good. Or, at least it can be. Fear can also be really, really bad. To illustrate this let’s consider an example outside the world of marketing: the fear of germs.

If you have a healthy, rationale fear of germs that stops you from eating a half-eaten Oreo off the floor of a truckstop restroom — that’s fine. However, if your fear of germs leaves you a sniveling shut-in who is constantly Purelling your latex-gloved hands as you scrub your sterile, hermetically-sealed apartment — that’s not so good. The first example is common sense; the second is overblown, misguided paranoia.

Now here’s the ironic thing — being crazy-afraid of germs can make you more likely to get sick. If you flush every toilet with your foot, wear a surgical mask around toddlers, and constantly scrub your hands with super-duper, extra-strength antibacterial soap, your immune system becomes weak. When a germ finally does get through, it multiplies faster than the Octomom at a polygamist compound.

In a similar way, being afraid to fail can keep you from being successful. That’s especially true in marketing, in which fear of failure makes companies overly safe. They are afraid of people not liking them. They are afraid of offending someone. They don’t want to be shocking. They don’t want to make waves. And the last thing they want is controversy or bad press. The problem is they try so hard not to offend anyone that no one notices them at all. And not being noticed at all is the one thing all marketers should fear most. That’s the one thing we should be very, very afraid of.

Once you’re afraid of not being noticed, you realize it’s important to take risks. It’s important to be funny, dramatic, weird, cool, controversial, innovative, entertaining — whatever it takes to cut through the convoluted clutter of marketing messages and get your brand on consumers’ radar. This doesn’t mean you should try to offend and alienate your target market. It simply means this — it’s okay to rub a small minority the wrong way as long as your main target thinks you’re right on.