Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt


Have you seen the new commercial for Apple Watch? It’s both appalling and brilliant. The first thing Harriet said was, “I want that watch.”

In the first 911 call, we hear the audio of a woman after she flipped her car and it’s starting to fill with water. The second call features a paddleboarder who has drifted out to sea. The final emergency features a farmer who has fallen from a ladder and broken his leg.

I’m no shill for Apple, but you have to see this:

This is a perfect example of FUD advertising—using Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt to sway your audience. A lot of advertising uses FUD and it means just what it says: you play upon peoples’ fears, uncertainties, and doubts to motivate them to buy your product. You push people to focus on negative outcomes and exaggerate the likelihood of these negative outcomes happening. You play on people’s emotions, not their reason, because this is what effective advertising does.

“Marketing is not a battle of products, it’s a battle of perceptions.” So stated Al Ries and Jack Trout in one of the most famous marketing books of all time, “The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing.” The perception in Apple’s advertisement is that you might die if you don’t have the Apple Watch. Never mind the likelihood of these events actually happening to you. And who cares if there might be a better product out there? Apple Watch = Survival.

IBM was a master practitioner of FUD and had a clever slogan in the 1970s that steered potential customers away from buying competitor products: “No one ever got fired for buying IBM.” The message is that IBM is the safe and right choice, and making a different choice could lead to disaster and you losing your job.

Fearmongering is a form of manipulation which causes fear by using exaggerated rumors of impending danger. You see it all the time not just in advertising but in politics. Like sounding the alarm that hordes of immigrants are invading the borders and taking over. Or states passing voting restriction laws in the effort to prevent voter fraud, which barely exists, when in fact the true impact is to make it hard for certain people to vote. Yes, I had to get that in. I have a lot of FUD about our country’s future.

By David Klein

David Klein

Published novelist, creative writer, journalist, avid reader, discriminating screen watcher.


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