Fear: The Most Powerful Emotion on the Planet
In 2005, Merck & Co.—the huge pharmaceutical conglomerate—was poised to get FDA approval for Gardasil, a supposedly foolproof vaccine against cervical cancer.
In June 2006, the influential government Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP), recommended that shots be given to all pre-teen girls starting as young as nine at the discretion of their doctors.
Merck operatives and lobbyists blitzed state legislators with the news. Their message of fear: Unless you make Gardasil a requirement for entrance into junior high and high schools, girls in your state could die of cervical cancer. So far, fearful lawmakers in 20 states are drafting bills that make the vaccine mandatory.
If the bills become law, the three shots of vaccine—totaling $360 per child— will represent billions of dollars for Merck.
Fear Begets Fear-1
Many parents are fearful of their daughters being forcefully vaccinated. As John Carreyrou wrote in The Wall Street Journal:
Tina Walker, the mother of an 11-year-old girl in Flower Mound, Texas, says she would prefer to wait until the vaccine has been on the market for several years before subjecting her child to it. “We are the guinea pigs here,” she says.
Tina Walker is spot-on. No one knows the long-term effects of this vaccine. The Wall Street Journal reported that so far “82 adverse events” have occurred as a result of Gardasil injections.
How hungry is Merck for this business? One of its lobbyists in Texas is the former chief of staff for Governor Rick Perry and Merck’s political action committee donated $6,000 to Perry’s re-election campaign. This past week, Governor Perry issued an executive order mandating that every female child entering the sixth grade must be vaccinated with Gardasil starting in 2008.
Currently, Merck is being sued by 1,400 patients—and families of the deceased— for failing to reveal that the long-term use of its drug, Vioxx, could result in heart problems and death. Presumably it is desperate for the Gardasil windfall in order to pay off the projected billions in Vioxx judgments.
Fear Begets Fear-2
Vaccines for chicken pox, polio and measles are widely accepted. No parent wants a child in school exposed to one of these highly contagious diseases.
But cervical cancer? You do not contract it from a crowd or in a swimming pool. It is sexually transmitted.
A number of conservative organizations have come out against mandatory vaccination because they fear that it will encourage sexual promiscuity among girls and young women. It seems to me that the behavior of daughters is private family business and not any concern of busybody buttinskies across town or around the country. But then I have never had kids, so what do I know?
Interestingly, on February 5, Reuters reported on a Common Sense Media survey of 1,138 parents across the United States which concluded that 57 percent of parents were fearful of their kids being exposed to the media versus 45 percent that said they were more concerned about sex or alcohol abuse.
This story will not receive widespread coverage because the media are fearful of publicity generated by parental criticism and the possibility of advertising boycotts.
In combing through 20 newspapers and Web sites a day, and downloading dozens of stories, I cannot help but notice widespread fear throughout our society. A sampling from just this past week:
* Pinch Fears—and Fires—Morgan Stanley. The New York Times publisher, Arthur (Pinch) Sulzberger, Jr. axed Morgan Stanley because of fear that the family money manager, Hassan Elmasry, will be successful in his campaign to change the corporate share structure in order to wrest tight control of the company from the Sulzberger family.
* Lisa Nowak Fears Colleen Shipman Would Steal Her Man
In one of the most bizarre—and sad—stories of the week, Astronaut Lisa Nowak packed a BB gun, pepper spray, plastic gloves, garbage bags, and donned a wig and diapers (so she would not have to take a bathroom break) to drive 900 miles from Houston to Orlando. Her objective was to confront Air Force Captain Colleen Shipman about her relationship with another astronaut. That an Annapolis graduate and former test pilot who had risen to the rank of captain did not come to her senses somewhere in the eighth or ninth hour of her drive and say to herself, “What in the hell am I doing!” is a testament to the power of fear.
* Oil Companies Fear Global Warming Report. The British Newspaper, The Guardian, reported that the American Enterprise Institute—a conservative Washington think tank funded by ExxonMobil—offered scientists and economists $10,000 each for articles that would undermine a major report on climate change issued by the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
* Queen Fears Backlash of Prince Charles “going green.” The Daily Mail reported that Her Majesty fears that the Prince of Wales is embarrassing other members of the royal family with his environmental stance and speech in New York that climate change was a “war” that must be won. “It is feared the knock-on effects of the criticism may restrict the royals’ ability to act as ambassadors abroad,” said The Daily Mail. “Some senior sources fear the situation may lead to splits in the royal family itself.”
* Voters Fear Mitt Romney’s Mormonism. “Mormon Candidate Braces for Religion as an Issue,” was the headline of a New York Times feature this past February 8. “Mr. Romney’s advisers acknowledged that popular misconceptions about Mormonism—as well as questions about whether Mormons are beholden to their church’s leaders on public policy—could give his opponents ammunition in the wide-open fight among Republicans to become the consensus candidate of social conservatives,” wrote Adam Nagourney and Laurie Goodstein.
One Industry Entirely Based on Fear: Insurance
All insurance is purchased out of fear—fear of financial ruin. Health, homeowner, long-term care, automobile, flood, travel, liability—all are policies for which people pay dearly. And both insurers and insureds have one single, fervent hope: no claims.
Yet insurance marketers have the most screwed-up vocabulary of any industry, because they do not understand the difference between features and benefits. For example, a 10-year term life insurance policy might offer the following “benefits:”
* Provide a death benefit to the designated beneficiary of $1 million.
* Provide Accidental Death and Dismemberment benefit equal to the amount of Basic Group Life Insurance.
* Offers an accelerated death benefit, which allows terminally ill employees the opportunity to collect all or part of their life insurance prior to death.
* No physical exam is required.
* Your acceptance is based on your answers to just three simple health questions.
* Once enrolled, benefits are payable from the very first day coverage takes effect.
* There is no waiting period before full benefits are available.
* You can never be singled out for a rate increase.
* Etc., etc., etc.
In any other industry, these would be features. Only insurance marketers call them benefits.
How would a direct marketer use fear to sell insurance?
“Go for points of maximum anxiety,” counsels the great copywriter Bill Bonner who presides over the multimillion-dollar Agora Publishing.
In other words, get inside the heads of the people to whom you are writing, figure out what keeps them awake at three in the morning and feed on those fears. For example, chances are that they are wildly overextended financially and if anything happened to the breadwinner, the family would be evicted from their home and forced on to public assistance.
The benefits of having a $1 million term life policy: You can sleep soundly knowing that if the unthinkable happened, the mortgage would be paid and your family will be taken care of. They will remember you with love for your foresight and for the protection you gave them rather than with contempt for putting them out on the street.
The actual features of the policy are incidental to the sale.
Another Industry Based on Fear: Politics
Who can forget the gaffe that may have cost John Kerry the presidency when he said the following about the senate vote on the Iraq War, “I voted for it before I voted against it.” The Republicans replayed that line over and over again with lethal effect, scaring the voters into believing Kerry was a flip-flopper and therefore a danger. When Kerry refused to immediately dispute the Swift Boaters’ charges that his Vietnam medals were not earned, voters perceived that maybe those allegations were true and feared that Kerry was a liar and a coward that could not be trusted to support our troops in Iraq.
The 2004 presidential election was won on voter fear of John Kerry.
Hillary Clinton is in for the same treatment—the result of the 20-second gaffe at the Democratic National Committee winter meeting in Washington early in February—that I mentioned in last week’s edition of this e-zine.
Here is the fear-based, 30-second spot I would run were I managing the campaign of Barack Obama or Rudolph Giuliani:
[SIGN ACROSS TOP OF SCREEN THROUGHOUT THE 30-SECOND SPOT]
Should Hillary Clinton Be President?
[ON SMALL TV SCREEN INSET, SENATOR CLINTON SPEAKS TO DNC. USE THE JERKY, PRIMITIVE YouTube.com VERSION TO GIVE THE IMPRESSION IT WAS A HIDDEN CAMERA CAPTURING AN OFF-THE-RECORD SPEECH]
The other day, the oil companies reported the highest profits in the history of the world. I want to take those profits and I want to put them into a strategic energy fund … [SOUND FADES TO SILENCE]
[ON SCREEN, WE SEE CLINTON CONTINUING TO SPEAK. NO SOUND]
[GIULIANI VOICE OVER]
In June 2005, the Supreme Court said that the government could seize your home and turn it into condos in order to raise more tax money.
Now Hillary Clinton wants to seize business profits. What will Hillary try to seize next? Your investments? Your savings? Your bank account? Your salary?
This is more than scary. It’s un-American.
I’m Rudy Giuliani and I approved this message.
GIULIANI IN ‘08
In short, if you can scare the wits out of people and then offer salvation, you are on your way to a successful promotional effort.