(With apologies to the author of the famous 1 Corinthians 13 discourse on what love is)
Seth Godin writes about the three 'roots' of the people's motivations - fear, hope, and love. Interestingly, when I was a student of Psychology and Philosophy in the university, these three themes also emerged - though in different contexts -
According to one of my professors, "fear" and "love" are the most basic of emotions. We either act in fear or in love. And sometimes, the two intersect - and when they intersect, that is when humans become more impassioned resulting to either 'good' results or 'bad' results.
A mother who fears for the life of her child will gladly offer her life to protect her child in times of dangers: that's an amalgam of love and fear - strengthening the mother, powering her up (so to speak) to rise up to the occasion.
At the same time, a thief running away from the cops after having stolen diamonds is acting also in the same amalgam of love and fear: running away because of fear - and of love for the wealth she has amassed.
Fear and love are the most basic of emotions - and when they combine, I think they're a strong motivation. In medical ads - specially those anti-AIDS campaign or anti-VD campaigns - I think are all about playing on the idea of syncing love with fear - or vice versa to achieve a shift in behaviors. The cigarette packs in Singapore and in Thailand - which now sport dessicated lungs, gangrenes, and photos of babies of supposed smokers - are also playing on fear and love. At first glance, you would think that they were all about fear - but in instilling fear, there is a secondary message of "loving yourself by stopping yourself from getting lung cancer".
Whether it works or not, it's still anybody's guess.
Anyway, I also read about Hope in philosophy. According to Gabriel Marcel, hope is what keeps us human and centered and connected with others. In his expression - "I hope in Thee for us" - is at the same an acknowledgement of the presence of an "I" and "not-I", who are nonetheless connected by a hope towards something bigger - something beyond - something that is Love itself and Hope itself.
I've always thought of advertising as supposedly identifying human truths - and translating and expressing them into a creative expression that would make people sit up, think, and consider their thoughts and actions and behaviors.
And indeed, it is the marriage of the three that somehow makes people reconsider.
Fear is a strong emotion - but with fear comes love. Fear hopes to bring about love. And fear on its own could generate response. (Recall the SARS days in Singapore when everybody went all-out to buy face masks or when there was the rush to buy Tamiflu because it apparently helps in stemming the epidemic.) But underneath that fear is self-love - and perhaps love for those people around you.
Underneath that - and perhaps even deeper - is hope. People bought gas masks because of the fear - driven by their self-love and love of others dear to them - and the hope that these will work against the spectre of doom called SARS.
Could fear, hope, and love build a brand?
I think so. Fashion fads, digital tech gadget trends, and laundry detergents are all based on some form of fear or another. And advertisers and creative agencies - consciously or unconsciously - create the fear amongst their consumers: "If I don't buy an Abercrombie&Fitch shirt, I'd be out..." "If I didn't have the latest iPhone or iTouch, I'd be seen as too outmoded..." "If I didn't have the right detergent, my kids' white uniforms won't be as good as others'..."
So does fear work as a brandbuilding tool?
Hmmm. I think it does.
Is it the right thing to do? I don't know. A part of me wants to say "yes" because it could be effective - and whether we like it or not, people are motivated by fear and the eradication of fear. A part of me wants to say "no" because it's unethical playing on people's fears.
And still another question - can we offer hope and eventually graduate to love without first 'resonating' with the "fear" within consumers' minds?
Seth Godin - you got me thinking again - and that's good.