Scaring people into customer loyalty

Scaring people can help enhance customer loyalty, a new study from University of British Columbia’s Sauder School of Business has shown.

Consumers will clutch their Coke for comfort when watching a scary film on their own, the researchers said.

The study, titled “The Impact of Fear on Emotional Brand Attachment” – will be published in the June edition of the Journal for Consumer Research. It was authored by Lea Dunn and JoAndrea Hoegg.

The study findings contradict industry behavior. Companies are reluctant to place their products in horror films compared to comedies, romance, adventure or other genres.

Newly graduated Sauder PhD student Lea Dunn, said:

“People cope with fear by bonding with other people. When watching a scary movie they look at each other and say ‘Oh my god!’ and their connection is enhanced.”

“But, in the absence of friends, our study shows consumers will create heightened emotional attachment with a brand that happens to be on hand.”

Scaring people when alone enhances brand affiliation

In her study, Dunn demonstrated that a consumer who is scared when watching a movie feels a closer affiliation with a present brand than when watching a film that evokes excitement, sadness or happiness.

A further study found that fear makes people report a stronger brand attachment, even if they only see the product. It also demonstrated that a stronger attachment to the brand was only generated if it occurred at the same time as the fear.

Presenting the product after the sensation of fear does not enhance or create a bond.

Dunn said:

“Marketers are afraid of fear. Their worries about negative associations outweigh their desire to tap into the massive market commanded by fear-based entertainment such as horror films or video games.”

“But our study shows advertisers should consider offering up their brands as something to cling to in the dark when the knives come out and the blood starts to splatter.”

In an Abstract in the journal, the authors concluded:

“The findings from the research advance understanding of consumer-brand relationships by demonstrating that relationships between consumers and brands are not merely metaphorical. Rather, under certain circumstances, brands can actually fulfill interpersonal psychological needs.”