Death cloud and Celine Dion: Marketing and Media lessons from the catastrophes in Japan

The triple-catastrophe that stroke Japan earlier in March and the sequence of events that followed it apparently serve not only as a lesson on disaster management and nuclear policy for various different parties, but they also had their say on marketing and media.
Local Viennese newspapers talk about ‘death clouds’, ‘atomic panic’, ‘death reactor’ and ‘ an unstoppable core melt accident‘. On the television, a German reports on tsunami refugees while playing Celine Dion’s Titanic title song. It seems that the 9000+ km of distance between the ‘factual zone’ (Japan) and the reporting agents (Austria) serve as an incubator for the rapid transformation of ‘facts’ into ‘assumptions’.
While the real facts are enough to blow one’s mind out, the ‘could-be’ wave of information is heavily responsible for the ‘incubated hysteria’. As much as leaders insist there is no reason for panic, Geiger counters, a radiation measurement device, are sold out; potassium iodide pills, which prevents the absorption of radioactivity, have seen a gigantic increase in sales as people stock up and some even take them in. And again, we are 9000+ km away from the accident site. In a very interesting commentary by Manfred Perterer in the newspaper “Salzburger Nachrichten” on Saturday 19th, 2011, he writes: “The closer one gets to the site of the events, the more objective TV, radio, online and press services get.”
Having this all said, the consequence is an ‘unfortunate media-sponsored’ opportunity: fear marketing. And the reason is very simple: fear sells! There is nothing like fear-based appeals triggering customers’ imagination and revealing how terrible things ‘could be’ if he/she fails to follow the recommendation given by the seller. The truth is that fear-marketing surrounds us more often than we think. Different mindsets perceive things in different ways. For some people, the consequences of eating non-bio products can be as scary as not having the proper insurance in cases of trouble for others individuals. Both selling propositions can be ‘fear-driven’ at different levels for different customers.
The so-called ‘fear marketing’ appeals to the harm it prevents or removes as well as to the benefit it brings. In both cases, the goal is achieved by either purchasing the ‘product’ (condoms prevent AIDS) or by ‘avoiding the purchase’ (cigarettes kill). According to marketing specialist Martin Lindstrom (as quoted in an article by Marko Kananen from on March 24th, 2011): “Fear will be one of the most important factors pushing the sales far into future. The effectiveness of fear is based on the neurological fact that the brain’s fear is more powerful than the brain’s reasoning circuitry.”
While marketers play with Maslow’s pyramid to get things sold at the costs of fear, the media’s reports on natural disasters such as the catastrophe in Japan deepen consumers’ deficiency of their most basic needs. Whether one can call it “fair-play” or not, this is just food for thought. The fact is that this ultimate madness has to be reasoned out. Sensationalists might make good use of Celine Dion’s hit to tell us what we have to feel. One has to be aware of his brain’s reasoning circuitry weakness, though. Recognizing this weakness and searching for quality factual media to help us make our own opinion might be a good way to avoid being stocked by the ‘death cloud’.

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