Leveraging Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt in Copywriting

Fear is paralyzing. And fear is important for marketers to understand and leverage. I was reminded of how fear takes over the mind while on vacation a couple of weeks ago in Barcelona, Spain. We rented a car for a drive to Andorra and Southern France, and while returning the car to the Barcelona’s city center, we got lost. The GPS navigation wasn’t helpful. The streets were crowded. Then a tap on the window by a motorcyclist next to our car, and pedestrians pointing

Fear is paralyzing. And fear is important for marketers to understand and leverage. I was reminded of how fear takes over the mind while on vacation a couple of weeks ago in Barcelona, Spain. We had rented a car for a drive to Andorra and Southern France and while returning the car to the Barcelona’s city center, we got lost. The GPS navigation wasn’t helpful. The streets were crowded. Then a tap on the window by a motorcyclist next to our car, and pedestrians pointing to the passenger rear tire sent me over the edge: the tire was nearly flat.

Going into the trip, I anticipated that renting a car and driving would generate some anxiety. It began with the fact that the car came with a manual transmission. The last time that I had driven a vehicle with a manual transmission was on the family farm in the 1970s. I thought driving with a manual transmission after all those years would be like never forgetting how to ride a bike. Apparently not. After dozens of times stalling the engine in intersections and at toll booths due to the learning curve of syncing acceleration and releasing the clutch, I felt fear. After three days of driving, I finally got past the learning curve of using a manual transmission.

But it was in the moments returning the car with a nearly flat tire that was my worst fear of all. There was no place to pull over on the crowded streets of Barcelona. Traffic was heavy. Motorcycles buzzed around us. Yet we were only blocks from the car rental facility. We couldn’t get there from where we were.

Fear consumed me. It’s an instinctive response, and there is science that helps to explain why fear is all-consuming.

The amygdala, or lizard brain, has an evolutionary purpose for humans to survive. The amygdala reacts in a “fight” or “flight” mode. It is alert to basic needs—anger, fear and reproduction—with memory formulated over a lifetime as it assesses how to respond to survive and reproduce.

The right amygdala retains negative emotions, especially fear and sadness. The left amygdala retains both pleasant and unpleasant emotions.

Because we’re wired for fear and negative emotion more dominantly than for positive emotions, fear, uncertainty and doubt take over.

And these emotions are the most powerful human emotions that marketers can leverage.

For fear to work, and for you to be credible in your copy, consider these three pathways:

  1. Begin by stimulating your prospect’s emotion with how you relate to their fear, uncertainty and doubt (“FUD”).
  2. Once you have acknowledged and reminded them of their FUD, you’re poised to take the next step of earning trust.
  3. Quickly calm their minds by offering your solution and clearing away the FUD.

When your mind is in constant fear, it’s difficult to think. You’re stuck. You’re frozen. You can’t make up your mind. Your decision-making power is blocked.

Marketers can leverage the power of fear to stimulate emotion, but to be effective, you must quickly calm the mind so that decision making is unblocked and you can move your customers to the thinking part of their brains where they can make decisions.

As for the rest of the Barcelona driving story, thankfully, after several minutes of fear and panic, we ditched using the navigation. Our daughter had been studying there for the semester and her internship’s office was in the general neighborhood of where we needed to return the car. She had never driven in the city, but was familiar with the streets.

She calmly gave me the turn-by-turn directions to the car rental return facility. When I finally recognized a landmark only a block away, my fear vanished and a calm enveloped me. We arrived before the tire had gone completely flat. And now I could think clearly once again and return to enjoying our vacation.