Seth Godin has an interesting post on the elements required for an idea to be viral. As usual, he does a good job of distilling marketing ideas to basic building blocks. But that wasn't what stuck with me the most. It was this:
Panic, for instance, is a superbad idea at all times, but it spreads faster than most. That's because spreading an idea is rarely a thoughtful, voluntary act. Instead, it is near the core of who we are, and we often do it without thinking much about the implications.
I wonder how much the idea of panic is used by marketers to sell something. Sure, the theory that FUD (Fear-Uncertainty-Doubt) inspires some of our purchasing decisions is not a new one. But true, unbridled, scream-like-a-little-girl panic? I don't know if anyone has jumped on that yet to hock a product or service. I suppose you could make an argument that virus protection software or Y2K supplies play into that core emotion. And maybe some pharmaceutical companies have been guilty of overemphasizing certain consequences of NOT taking one's medicine in their advertising. If I wanted to get political here (and I guess I do, because I'm mentioning it), I could make an argument that the current administration is using Panic Marketing to sell the War on Terror.
Here's hoping this is a trend that does not continue. Marketing is only sustainable with educated customers, not freaked out customers. As soon as the panic goes away, the utility of the service or product (or administration- damn! sorry. won't happen again) diminishes in the eyes of the customer significantly, and their trust in you, the vendor, evaporates utterly and permanently.