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FEAR APPEAL & CLIMATE CHANGE

Posted on: May 29, 2021

Kaylene WILLIAMS | Professor of Marketing | Doctorate in Business  Administration | California State University, Stanislaus, Turlock | CSU  Stanislaus | Department of Management,Operations, and Marketing
KAYLENE C WILLIAMS, CALIFORNIA STATE UNIVERSITY, STANISLAUS

THIS POST IS A PRESENTATION OF THE THEORY AND HISTORY OF THE USE OF FEAR IN ADVERTISING AND PRODUCT OR BEHAVIOR PROMOTION AND ACTIVISM AGAINST UNDESIRABLE PRODUCTS AND BEHAVIOR. THIS FIELD OF RESEARCH IS CALLED FEAR APPEAL. THE FULL TEXT OF A SIGNIFICANT WORK IN THIS AREA IS PROVIDED BELOW THE BIBLIOGRAPHY. IN THE BIBILIOGRAPHY THAT COMES FIRST WE HIGHLIGHT THE WORK OF RESER AND BRADLEY THAT THE USE OF FEAR APPEAL IN CLIMATE CHANGE IS NOT APPROPRIATE AND THE WORK OF STERN THAT FEAR APPEAL IN CLIMATE CHANGE HAS FAILED AND CREATED DENIERS.

Mary Poffenroth: Biology lecturer & Fear researcher, San Jose State  University — CNL
PROFESSOR MARY POFFEROTH: FEAR IS A POWERFUL TOOL

THE WORKS OF PROFESSOR MARY POFFEROTH OF SAN JOSE STATE UNIVERSITY, SAN JOSE, CALIFORNIA, USA

Fear is a powerful tool that grabs our attention and can evoke an emotional response. This is why fear appeal, a well-documented method of persuasion, is employed throughout media and advertising. This study examines nine climate change-related magazine covers of  The Economist, a prestigious business magazine, with a special focus on fear appeal using con-tent analysis, semiotics, and compositional interpretation. The results show a duplicity inmessaging that conveys an appeal to fear through imagery while at the same time balancingthis fear with positive, hopeful linguistics that promise oversimplied solutions to a complex,multifaceted problem.”

QUOTED FROM FEAR APPEAL RESEARCH PAPER ON ACADEMIA.EDU: LINK: https://www.academia.edu/RegisterToDownload/BulkDownload by Mary Poffenroth, San Jose State University, San Jose, CA.

SUMMARY: The climate disaster narrative, loosely defined as a storyline of varying degrees of apocalyptic conditions where the Earth’s landscape is ruined, is a common one throughout climate change communications (Lowe et al., 2006). The trends that emerged from the data after applying content analysis, semiotics, and compositional interpretation are fear appeal Imagery As A Predominant Method Of Persuasion. Fear appeal, a method of persuasive communication is said to have three processes. These are response shaping, response reinforcing, and response changing. Since response shaping assumes that there is no prior knowledge of the issue or event, it was removed from this study. Response-reinforcing visual communication occurs when the viewer already embraces the belief or behavior promoted by the creator (Cameron, 2009). In this study, all nine covers reinforce the belief that climate change exists. Seven of the nine cover images reinforce the climate disaster narrative (Figure 1). The first cover image to not reinforce the climate disaster narrative was in December 2009. This cover suggests to the viewer that climate change is within our power to stop, if we so wish it. This messaging also supports the American national narrative that we have the power to change anything of which we disapprove. The second cover to reinforce the threat of climate change but not reinforce the climate disaster narrative occurred in November, 2015. This is by far the most distant of all the covers from the climate disaster narrative and also happens to be the one example of the response changing process as presented by Cameron in 2009. The response-changing process, the most commonly associated goal of persuasive communication, is to motivate the consumer to change an already practiced belief or behavior into something that the creator supports (Cameron, 2009). Most of the covers in this study do little to attract the attention of a climate skeptic, except for the cover of the November 2015 issue, which presents a clear appeal to a wider audience on the climate change belief spectrum. Fear Appeal Lies On A Spectrum: Fear appeal as a persuasive tool lies on a spectrum of varying degrees of strength. Of the nine climate change covers analyzed, two covers featured a low appeal to fear (2005, 2015), two were moderate (2006, 2009), and five exemplified a high level of fear appeal (2007, 2010, 2010, 2012, 2016). Chronologically speaking, The Economist began with a relatively low use of fear appeal, but as the years advance toward the present, the climate change covers of The Economist dramatically increase in fear appeal communications, especially in terms of imagery, with the one distinct outlier being November 2015. The denotative text and associated connotations of cover years 2005 and 2015 did little to evoke a negative emotional response, while covers from years 2006 and 2009 elicited a negative emotional response, but the overall connotation of the piece was not distinctly fearful. The highest fear appeal rating was given to those covers that conveyed deliberate imagery and/or messaging clearly meant to evoke a fear-based emotional response such as a man running from a tornado or a post-apocalyptic world filled with ominously colored gasses. This level of fear appeal was found in cover years 2007, 2010, 2010, 2012, and 2016. Although the cover art of climate change visuals of The Economist utilize fear appeal as a persuasive method, they fail to deeply communicate a threat to the reader’s immediate and personal well-being. Overall, all nine climate change issues of the Economist distance the issue from the reader by portraying scenes that disconnect him or her from the ultimate causes that are within his or her realm of influence and the effects they will have on his or her own life. All but two covers display varying degrees of a landscape that are both an iconic representation of reality and an indexical representation of the two most common climate change themes in media: melting ice (December 2005 and June 2012) and extreme drought (September 2006 and November 2010). Four of the covers present symbols of a future that may or may not exist, both in a positive outcome (November 2015) and a post-apocalyptic one of ruined, polluted skies (June 2007 and November 2016) and monstrous storms (March 2010). In five of the nine covers (Figure 1), The Economist takes a position of advocacy by providing solutions, or showcasing the solutions of others. These five covers still fit into the two-part fear appeal definition proposed by Ruiter et al. (2001) where the viewer is presented with both a threat, usually one that will elicit an emotional response, and a recommended protective action to mediate or remove that threat (Figure 1). The Economist uses fear appeal imagery to grab attention and reinforce the severity of the threat, while at the same time conveying textual messages of reassurance that a solution, or at least a mitigation, to the threat not only exists but is attainable. Each of these threatening images is accompanied by a hopeful message in the headline. These headlines connote to the reader that all is not lost and that nhe or she can take action to “stop”, “clean up”, and “live with” the effects of climate change (Ruiter, 2001; Cameron, 2009). None of the cover art deeply connects to an urgent threat to human survival. The landscapes are mostly of far-away places most American readers will never visit, and the overwhelming power of optimism bias lets readers’ minds reason that a fire- and smoke-filled future doesn’t really apply to them. All nine cover images are framed in a way that distances them, and thus the issue of climate change, from the readers, either physically, geographically, or personally. This results in none of the covers eliciting a powerful emotional response and therefore not creating a deep, visceral fear arousal. Only two of the nine covers deal with causes, and they are both from the same contributor to climate change: industrial smoke stacks spewing dark gaseous clouds into the sky. Although this imagery does arouse the viewer’s fear of having to live in a polluted world, it does little to make the viewer feel responsible for the outcome or empowered to change it.

PART-1: BIBLIOGRAPHY

(1): RESER AND BRADLEY 2017: CLIMATE SCIENTISTS STRUGGLING WITH THE APPROPRIATENESS OF FEAR BASED CLIMATE ACTIVISM

Reser, Joseph P., and Graham L. Bradley. “Fear appeals in climate change communication.” Oxford research encyclopedia of climate science. 2017. There is a strong view among climate change researchers and communicators that the persuasive tactic of arousing fear in order to promote precautionary motivation and behavior is neither effective nor appropriate in the context of climate change communication and engagement. Yet the modest research evidence that exists with respect to the use of fear appeals in communicating climate change does not offer adequate empirical evidence—either for or against the efficacy of fear appeals in this context—nor would such evidence adequately address the issue of the appropriateness of fear appeals in climate change communication. Extensive research literatures addressing preparedness, prevention, and behavior change in the areas of public health, marketing, and risk communication generally nonetheless provide consistent empirical support for the qualified effectiveness of fear appeals in persuasive social influence communications and campaigns. It is also noteworthy that the language of climate change communication is typically that of “communication and engagement,” with little explicit reference to targeted social influence or behavior change, although this is clearly implied. Hence underlying and intertwined issues here are those of cogent arguments versus largely absent evidence, and effectiveness as distinct from appropriateness. These matters are enmeshed within the broader contours of the contested political, social, and environmental, issues status of climate change, which jostle for attention in a 24/7 media landscape of disturbing and frightening communications concerning the reality, nature, progression, and implications of global climate change. All of this is clearly a challenge for evaluation research attempting to examine the nature and effectiveness of fear appeals in the context of climate change communication, and for determining the appropriateness of designed fear appeals in climate change communications intended to both engage and influence individuals, communities, and “publics” with respect to the ongoing threat and risks of climate change. There is an urgent need to clearly and effectively communicate the full nature and implications of climate change, in the face of this profound risk and rapidly unfolding reality. All such communications are, inherently, frightening warning messages, quite apart from any intentional fear appeals. How then should we put these arguments, evidence, and challenges “on the table” in our considerations and recommendations for enhancing climate change communication—and addressing the daunting and existential implications of climate change?

(1): SAFFRON AND NICHOLSON-COLE 2009: FEAR BASED ACTIVISM ISN’T WORKING AND MAY BACKFIRE

O’Neill, Saffron, and Sophie Nicholson-Cole. ““Fear won’t do it” promoting positive engagement with climate change through visual and iconic representations.” Science communication 30.3 (2009): 355-379. Fear-inducing representations of climate change are widely employed in the public domain. However, there is a lack of clarity in the literature about the impacts that fearful messages in climate change communications have on people’s senses of engagement with the issue and associated implications for public engagement strategies. Some literature suggests that using fearful representations of climate change may be counterproductive. The authors explore this assertion in the context of two empirical studies that investigated the role of visual, and iconic, representations of climate change for public engagement respectively. Results demonstrate that although such representations have much potential for attracting people’s attention to climate change, fear is generally an ineffective tool for motivating genuine personal engagement. Nonthreatening imagery and icons that link to individuals’ everyday emotions and concerns in the context of this macro-environmental issue tend to be the most engaging. Recommendations for constructively engaging individuals with climate change are given.

(3): THE JOY OF CLIMATE ACTION WORKS BETTER THAN THE FEAR OF CLIMATE INACTION.

Stern, Paul C. “Fear and hope in climate messages.” Nature Climate Change 2.8 (2012): 572-573. Bain et al. identify, in a laboratory setting, how climate change deniers can come to change their views to support pro-environmental policies. Contrary to the idea that scientific knowledge is central to such change, they show that informing these people about the expected impacts of climate change had no effect on their positions. What did change the positions was thinking about how limiting greenhouse-gas emissions might promote interpersonal warmth and scientific and technological progress.

(4):

Williams, Kaylene C. “Fear appeal theory.” Research in Business and Economics Journal 5.1 (2012): 1-21. A fear appeal posits the risks of using and not using a specific product, service, or idea such that if you don’t “buy,” some particular dire consequences will occur. That is, fear appeals rely on a threat to an individual’s well-being that motivates him or her toward action, e.g., increasing control over a situation or preventing an unwanted outcome. While threat and efficacy clearly are important for fear appeal effectiveness, these two ingredients alone are not sufficient. Additionally, empirical results regarding fear appeal effectiveness are not conclusive. However, the literature conventionally agrees that more effective fear appeals result from a higher fear arousal followed by consequences and recommendations to reduce the negativity. The purpose of this article is to review and examine the fear appeal literature with the aim of understanding the current overall fear appeal theory. In particular, this paper includes the following sections: introduction, definition of a fear appeal, use of fear appeals, theories of fear appeals, overall findings from the fear appeal theories and literature, and summary.

PART-2: KAYLENE C WILLIAMS 2012 FULL TEXT: THE THEORY OF FEAR APPEAL,

A REALLY GREAT LECTURE BY PROFESSOR KAYLENE WILLIAMS

DEFINITION OF A FEAR APPEAL

Fear appeals are built upon fear. Fear is “an unpleasant emotional state characterized by anticipation of pain or great distress and accompanied by heightened autonomic activity especially involving the nervous system…the state or habit of feeling agitation or dismay…something that is the object of apprehension or alarm” (Merriam-Webster, 2002).
Fear evolved as a mechanism to protect humans from life-threatening situations. As such, nothing is more important than survival and the evolutionary primacy of the brain’s fear circuitry. Matter-of-fact, the brain’s fear circuitry is more powerful than the brain’s reasoning faculties. According to Begley, Underwood, Wolffe, Smalley, and Interlandi (2007, 37), “The amygdala sprouts a profusion of connections to higher brain regions – neurons that carry one-way traffic from amygdala to neo-cortex. Fear connections run from the cortex to the amygdala, however. That allows the amygdala to override the products of the logical, thoughtful cortex, but not vice versa. So although it is sometimes possible to think yourself out of fear (‘I know that dark shape in the alley is just a trash can’), it takes great effort and persistence. Instead, fear tends to override reason, as the amygdala hobbles our logic and reasoning circuits. That makes fear ‘far, far more important than reason’.” Due to this circuitry, fear is more powerful than reason. Fear can sometimes be evoked easily and absurdly for reasons that live in mankind’s evolutionary past. For example, reacting to a nonexistent threat, such as a snake that is really a stick, is not as dangerous as the other way around – failing to respond to the actual threat of a snake. The brain seems to be wired to flinch first and ask questions second. As a consequence, fear can be easily and untruthfully sparked in such a way that is irrational and not subject to reason. (Begley, et al., 2007; Maren, 2008) Even though many marketers can recognize an appeal based on fear, there is no agreement regarding what causes a message to be categorized as a fear appeal (Witte, 1993). In general, however, a fear appeal posits the risks of using and not using a specific product, service, or idea. Fear appeals are defined by Kim Witte (1992, 1994), a prominent author in this area, as “persuasive messages that arouse fear by depicting a personally relevant and significant threat, followed by a description of feasible recommendations for deterring the threat” (Gore, Madhavan, Curry, McClurg et al., 1998, 34) The premise is that fear appeals rely on a threat to an individual’s well-being which motivates him or her towards action; e.g., increasing control over a situation or preventing an unwanted outcome. That is, a fear appeal is a type of “psychoactive” ad that can arouse fear in the participant regarding the effect of the participant’s suboptimal lifestyle (Hyman and Tansey, 1990). (Lewis, Watson, Tay, and White, 2007)
A fear appeal is composed of three main concepts: fear, threat, and perceived efficacy. “Fear is a negatively valenced emotion that is usually accompanied by heightened physiological arousal. Threat is an external stimulus that creates a perception in message receivers that they are susceptible to some negative situation or outcome. And, perceived efficacy is a person’s belief that message recommendations can be implemented and will effectively reduce the threat depicted in the message.” (Gore et al., 1998, 36) Witte and Allen (2000) have concluded that fear appeals are most effective when they contain both high levels of threat and high levels of efficacy. That is, the message needs to contain (1) a meaningful threat or important problem and (2) the specific directed actions that an individual can take to reduce the threat or problem. The individual needs to perceive that there is a way to address the threat and that he or she is capable of performing that behavior. (Eckart, 2011; Jones, 2010; Lennon and Rentfro, 2010) In addition, Cauberghe, De Pelsmacker, Janssens, and Dens (2009, 276) state, “Message involvement is a full mediator between evoked fear, perceived threat, and efficacy perception on the one hand, and attitudes towards the message and behavioral intention to accept the message on the other.” Fear appeals can be direct or indirect. A direct fear appeal focuses on the welfare of the message recipient. An indirect fear appeal focuses on motivating people to help others in danger. Whether the fear appeal is direct or indirect, three additional factors contribute to success: (1) design ads which motivate changes in individual behavior, (2) distribute the ads to the appropriate target audience, and (3) use a sustained communication effort to bring about change (Abernethy and Wicks, 1998).

USE OF FEAR APPEAL

Fear appeals have been used for many products, services, ideas, and causes. Some examples include smoking, dental hygiene, personal safety, pregnancy warnings, child abuse, AIDS prevention, safe driving practices, insurance, financial security, sun exposure, climate change, food additives, social embarrassment, motorcycle helmets, anti-drug abuse, immunization, smoke detectors, cell phones, safe sex, stress, and regular health exams. Specific advertising examples of fear appeals include Michelin tires and the baby, Talon zippers and “gaposis,” Wisk and ring around the collar, Bayer aspirin and heart attack prevention, drug use portrayed as eggs frying in the pan, J&J Advanced Care cholesterol test product, fear of gun crime to disarm the American public, Christianity and God’s punishment for sin, and World Wildlife Federation’s “Don’t buy exotic animal souvenirs.”
The use of fear appeals is common in many types of marketing communications. Huhmann and Brotherton (1997) have conducted a content analysis of popular magazine advertisements. They found that of 2,769 magazine ads examined, 131 contained fear appeals (4.8%). This was less often than other types of appeals: testimonials (11%), humor (10.8%), comparisons (10%), and sexual appeals (8.6%). But, it was more often than aesthetic appeals (4.1%) or before/after appeals (4%). While this study was done on magazine ads, it should be remembered that television serves the largest audiences of any mass media and is the primary source of information for many Americans (Abernethy and Wicks, 1998). With regard to television, fear appeals are perhaps the most common tactic used in public service announcements (PSAs). In these PSAs, threats of physical harm, injury, and death are used more frequently than social threats (Treise, Wolburg, and Otnes, 1999). More recently, fear appeals have been tested in terms of information security behaviors. Fear appeals impact end-user behavior but not uniformly as perceptions of self-efficacy, response efficacy, threat severity, and social influence also impact end users. (Johnston and Warkentin, 2010; Elliott, 2003; Eadie, MacKintosh, and MacAskill, 2009). Fear can be an effective motivator. “In the typical fear appeal context, fright and anxiety in the target audience can result because danger to themselves is perceived by members of the audience” (Bagozzi and Moore, 1994, 56). In fact, stronger fear appeals bring about greater attitude, intention, and behavior changes. That is, strong fear appeals are more effective than weak fear appeals (Higbee, 1969). In addition, fear appeals are most effective when they provide (1) high levels of a meaningful threat or important problem and (2) high levels of efficacy or the belief that an individual’s change of behavior will reduce the threat or problem. That is, fear appeals work when you make the customer very afraid and then show him or her how to reduce the fear by doing what you recommend. (Witte and Allen, 2000) However, too much fear can lead to dysfunctional anxiety (Higbee, 1969). In general, there is a direct relationship between low to moderate levels of fear arousal and attitude change (Krisher, Darley, and Darley, 1973). Weak fear appeals may not attract enough attention but strong fear appeals may cause an individual to avoid or ignore a message by employing defense mechanisms. Importantly, extreme fear appeals generally are unsuccessful in bringing about enduring attitude change. (Ray and Wilkie, 1970)
The literature seems to support the current practice of using high levels of fear in social advertising. High fear should be the most effective providing that the proposed coping response to the threat is feasible and within the consumer’s ability. However, because of ethical concerns regarding the use of fear appeals, alternatives also are suggested that can be used in lieu of fear appeals, i.e., positive reinforcement appeals aimed at the good behavior, the use of humor, and the use of post-modern irony for the younger audience. O’Keefe and Jensen (2008) suggest that gain-framed or positive appeals generally are more engaging than loss-framed or negative appeals. Gain-framed appeals appear never to be dependably less engaging, despite the greater strength of negative information and the greater engagingness of fear-inducing messages. (Hastings, Stead, and Webb, 2004). Historically, fear appeals have been researched from the vantage point of four dimensions: (1) degree – high vs. low emotional arousal, (2) type – physical or social discomfort, (3) positioning – appeals describe undesirable actions leading to negative consequences or appeals describe desirable actions leading to avoidance of negative consequences, and (4) execution style (e.g., slice of life, testimonial) (Stern, 1988). For example, Tanner, Hunt, and Eppright (1991) have found that the severity of the threat, the possibility of occurrence, coping response efficacy, and self-efficacy should be considered when developing fear appeals. Bagozzi and Moore (1994) have noted additional mediating variables: internal control of reinforcements, self-monitoring, attitudes toward the ad, sensory mode preference, media, product, and involvement. In addition, fear appeals have been found to be moderated by source credibility, interest, value of communication, relevance, and ethics (Quinn, Meenaghan, and Brannick, 1992). Schoenbachler and Whittler (1996) have further elaborated on sensation seeking and adolescent egocentrism as mediating variables in the response to fear appeals. One important conclusion is that although fear is a motivator for some people, the fear resides in the individual rather than in the message content (Denzin, 1984). As noted by Ruiter, Abraham, and Kok (2001, 613), “fear arousal is less important in motivating precautionary action than perceptions of action effectiveness and self-efficacy. Moreover, perceived personal relevance may be critical to the emotional and cognitive impact of threat information.” The precautionary information or reassurance in the message, rather than the capacity to arouse fear, is likely to have the greatest impact on behavior, especially given that fear may inhibit the establishment of precautionary motivation through the instigation of fear control processes. As can be seen, many direct and mediating variables seem to impact fear appeals.
Based on over 50 years of fear appeal research, Nabi, Roskos-Ewoldsen, and Carpentier (2008, 191) state that a “fear appeal should contain threat and efficacy information sufficient to both evoke fear and inform about adaptive behavioral responses.” For example, Cohen, Shumate, and Gold (2007) identified the types of advertisements that are most likely to be utilized in national and statewide anti-smoking campaigns in the Media Campaign Resource Center (MCRC). They found that anti-smoking advertising relied overwhelmingly on appeals to attitudes. Some 61% of advertisements mentioned the benefits of not smoking while 17% mentioned the barriers. The consequences of smoking were mentioned more than the viewer’s self-efficacy. In a similar vein, Gallopel-Morvan, Gabriel, and Gall-Ely (2011) found that tobacco fear appeals need to be combined with self-efficacy and cessation support messages since they provoke avoidance reactions. Rather than using sadness, fear, or anger appeals, ads were more likely to use informational and humor appeals. (Leventhal, 1970; Mongeau, 1998; Witte, 1992; Myers, 2011)

SUMMARY OF RESEARCH FINDINGS FROM THE FEAR APPEAL LITERATURE

Each of these fear appeal theories or models presents some useful distinctions. Overall, the following generalizations are offered with regard to the current status of fear appeal theory and literature.

  1. When people feel fearful, they are motivated to reduce the fear, threat, or danger.
  2. Fear appeals are built upon fear. That is, they identify the negative results of not using a product or the negative results of engaging in unsafe behavior.
  3. The use of fear appeals generally is effective in increasing interest, involvement, recall, and persuasiveness by potentially causing distress to the target audience.
  4. In general, the more frightened a person is by a fear appeal, the more likely he or she is to take positive preventive action.
  5. Overall, there is a curvilinear relationship between fear intensity and change in the target audience. If the fear is too low, it may not be recognized. If it reaches a threshold that is too high, the individual may engage in denial and avoidance.
  6. When tension becomes too high, fear appeals seem to become less effective. That is, high tension leads to energy depletion and negative mood. In addition, ads that focus on mortality-related risks may inadvertently make mortality salient and turn off the audience members who, in turn, are desperately trying to save their core worldviews.
  7. An individual’s response to a threat is based on two cognitive processes: threat appraisal and coping appraisal.
  8. A fear appeal should contain threat and coping efficacy information sufficient to both evoke a manageable level of fear and inform about adaptive behavioral responses.
  9. Fear appeals will not be successful if the individual feels powerless to change the behavior.
  10. Fear appeals are most effective when they provide (1) moderate to high levels of meaningful threat and (2) high levels of self-efficacy or the belief that an individual’s behavior change will reduce the threat, and can be attainable by him or her.
  11. Fear appeal effectiveness also depends on the individual’s characteristics, language, cultural orientation, stage of change, attitudes, and goals.
  12. For example, individuals highly involved and ego-involved in a topic can be motivated by a relatively small amount of fear. A more intense level of fear is required to motivate uninvolved individuals and those that are not ego-involved.
  13. Behavior depends on the value an individual has placed on a particular goal and the individual’s assessment of the likelihood that a given action will achieve the goal.
  14. As such, fear is both a drive and a cue in that fear may be acting as a cue below the threshold and as a drive above the threshold.
  15. Demographics also influence fear appeal effectiveness, e.g., age, sex, race, and education.
  16. Individuals with high self-esteem react more favorably to high levels of fear than do people with lower self-esteem. Lower self-esteem individuals are more persuaded by low levels of fear.
  17. Emotionally intense, high-impact ads may require fewer exposures to evoke strong emotions and stimulate empathy. But, subjective knowledge impacts the degree of emotional response to fear appeals, e.g., knowledgeable people may be more receptive to messages that are designed to be less emotionally arousing.
  18. Cognitive and emotional processes are mutually engaged and mutually supportive rather than antagonistic. Individuals seem to use emotions as tools for efficient information processing and this enhances their abilities to engage in meaningful deliberation.
  19. The more vulnerable an individual feels, the less effective a fear appeal.
  20. Defensive avoidance appears to be directly related to one’s characteristic level of anxiety.
  21. Fear-appeal messages will be most effective if they are interesting, attention-capturing, novel, relatively unknown topics, culturally sensitive, and cause the recipients to initially feel good about themselves, later sensitize them to their own risk, and then have their unhealthy point-of-view dispelled with empowerment.
  22. While these are the general findings regarding fear appeals, many moderating variables have been studied with varying results, e.g., values and beliefs, prior knowledge and experience, aware vs. latent publics, presence of addictive behavior, what is “hot information” for the individual, whether it is a direct or indirect fear appeal, and the information processing capability of the individual.
  23. In spite of these general conclusions, there remains a considerable question as to whether or not the use of fear appeals is ethical and how to make a fear appeal more ethical.

THE BOTTOM LINE

Fear appeals have been used successfully to increase advertising’s effect on consumer interest, recall, persuasiveness, and behavior change. However, the inner workings of a fear appeal have not been fully agreed upon or understood. The purpose of this paper has been to review and examine the fear appeal theories and literature. In particular, emphasis was given to defining a fear appeal and examining the use of fear appeals. Thereafter, fourteen theories of fear appeals were presented with overall findings derived from these theories and literature.

In essence, the bottom line of fear appeals is that they work; threatening information does motivate people to safer and recommended behavior. Based on over 50 years of fear appeal research, a fear appeal should contain threat and efficacy information sufficient to both evoke fear and inform about adaptive behavioral responses.

In addition, Hastings, Stead, and Webb (2004) state, “there are genuine concerns about the broader marketing implications of fear appeals, and they may breach the Hippocratic injunction of ‘First, do no harm’.” In response, a continued understanding of fear appeal theory and literature can contribute first to doing no harm and second to more effective advertising practice.

Kaylene WILLIAMS | Professor of Marketing | Doctorate in Business  Administration | California State University, Stanislaus, Turlock | CSU  Stanislaus | Department of Management,Operations, and Marketing

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