Do scare tactics work in selling?

If you looked at any anti-virus company communication, it’s always about scaring customers into submission. The monster in the closet. The virus that sneaks upon you unawares and makes away with  your data, your peace of mind or your bank balance. The threat levels are defined in scary red and protection is provided, either by a smart android with gleaming metal armour or a futuristic shield with spikes or even the bank vault analogy where viruses from the wild are captured and contained. The imagery is meant to intimidate as if the poor user is powerless unless he buys protection for life. A lot of anti-virus programs are resource hogs, running scans in the background and slowing down normal operations. Every time you open a file, it is ‘inspected’ before being allowed to run. Your email attachments are scanned and stamped virtually so that a trojan horse is not installed by stealth. Users can be first class chumps, clicking on emails from unknown addresses promising everything from a Google Plus invite to a link delivering a steamy video.

An anti virus company in the mobile space, Lookout Security is taking a different approach. Selling with reassurance. They went all the way down to the user interface to design the product. So you won’t see any of the typical bewildering questions that plague the user when a virus threat is discovered on the PC. Should it be repaired, quarantined, ignored or deleted? How would you know? The program decides what needs to be done and flashes an ‘everything is ok’ message when the threat as been contained. Which is a lot more comforting than being asked to deal with a confusing list of options. The company uses the same approach to selling the software. No highlighted threat levels, dire warnings or an atmosphere of dread. It’s soft, pleasant and easy on the eye. It’s not just different, its effective. The company claims it has an installed base of over 10 million users and they currently run 500 million scans a day. And growth is adding a million users a month.

So anti-virus programs can be sold the way insurance is. With a soft image, a promise of protecting your most valuable data and photographs and other digital treasures from being hacked. To defy category norms in advertising is not just difficult, its next to impossible. Car advertising is always about long drives and happy families and great mileage. But Hyundai got a lot of attention during the recession of 2008 when they ran an assurance program where you could return your car if you lost your job. Or Tom’s shoes. Where for every pair you buy, a pair is given to a needy child in an underdeveloped country. In terms of advertising, all other shoe companies worship at the altar of Nike. And Tom’s just goes in a completely different direction. So you may want to decide whether to say ‘Boo’ or ‘Hi’ when you advertise.