Timely Lesson: From a Marketing Standpoint, Scary Sells

By Stacy Cornay for the Times-Call
Publish Date: 10/31/2010

I'm like Scooby-Doo.

I don't buy or seek anyplace or anything that has the words “spooky,” “haunted,” “forbidden” or “eerie” in its title or description.

Scooby-Doo and I are in the minority.

Most people like to be scared. They like to be put off-guard. They like for their complacency to be shaken, for their hidden fears to be tested, for their status quo to be challenged. That's what makes Halloween so popular. It's the anticipation of the unexpected, of being shocked down to your toenails even when you think you know what's coming (don't go into dark attics, and never open locked doors you were warned not to open). Fright movies, zombie costumes and campfire stories add to the thrills, making Halloween one of most celebrated holidays of the year.

Where I grew up in Wyoming, the weather generally was the most scary feature.

Forget about being a princess, cat girl, gypsy or flapper when the temperature is in the tank and the wind is gusting at jet velocity.

It doesn't matter if you're gussied up as a fairy queen or decked out as a pirate; all the trick-or-treaters in my hometown pretty much looked the same. We were all bundled up in parkas, head scarves and mittens. We all looked like miniature mummies. Maybe that's why I'm really not into shock and awe. However, from a marketing standpoint, scary sells. Listen to the shrieks and screams of people riding roller coasters, then take a look at the long lines of thrill-seekers waiting to risk their reputations and clean underwear. Every day from the safety of my deck, I watch planes circling the airport while brave souls suck it up and jump out. As they float to earth, I can hear their distant shouts of relief (the parachute opened) and elation (everything seems to be going according to plan).

The roller-coaster riders and the neophyte para-chutists start from common ground.

They buy into marketing that promotes thrills, chills and death-defying experiences. Your marketing doesn't have to go that far.

We know advertisers are working on our insecurities when they say our teeth may not be as white as they could be, that we may be paying too much for our Internet/cable/dish services, that our lawn may not be as green as our neighbor's or that the oil in our car's engine may be falling down on the job. They're injecting uncertainty into our lives, then offering relief. It's an effective approach to selling everything from insurance and home security systems to child-proof medicines and identity theft protection.

If you're targeting adrenaline junkies, envelope-pushing teenagers and those who need a good heart-stopping experience to truly feel alive, scare advertising already is at the core of what you're doing.

Most of us aren't in that category. But it doesn't mean we can't incorporate toned-down elements in our own advertising and marketing campaigns.

Start by taking a closer look at your products or services. What could happen if people didn't use them? Can your products or services make people feel more comfortable or secure? Can your business invigorate lives? The list of questions you should ask is endless, but all have this in common: The answers must be truthful. The answers are promoted effectively. The answers are what you have to sell.

Give your customers and clients what they want. Reach out and challenge them in creative, innovative ways. Give them treats, not tricks.

Save the tricks for miniature mummies from Wyoming.

Stacy Cornay is the owner of Communication Concepts Public Relations & Advertising. 
Visit www.comm-concepts.com or call 303-651-6612.