5 Crazy Examples of Fear in Advertising

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Positive marketing has always been effective in advertising. “Buy our dish soap and you will own a spacious, fresh scented kitchen with lots of natural light, and your kids will love you again.” But selling fear—telling you all the awful things that will happen if you don’t buy our dish soap (swine flu, wrist cellulite)—has a glorious tradition all its own. It’s our duty to tell you about these five things you might not have known were out to ruin your life.

1. Thermos, USA. Date unknown

Hey Thermos! What the hell, man? You’re better than this. Your name will become one of those words that start out as a brand name and turn into a noun. You don’t have to resort to terrorizing mothers and threatening babies! Just show us a father and son enjoying a hot Thermos of cocoa by the fishing hole at dawn and we’ll buy! Enough of this “babies in graves” horror.

2. Attacks of Rabid Animals, Mexico. Date Unknown

Courtesy of Public Collectors

You can paint your home in as pretty a pastel palette as you want; the giant rats and rabid dogs are still going to come for your children. Vaccinate your dogs to stop the spread of the disease. The rats after your baby? Man, that’s scary. Good luck with it.

3. ScotTissue, USA. 1930s

Courtesy of Imgur

Do you know how thin the line is between a gentle, democratic America and the destruction of our civilization? As thin as a single paper towel, Bucko. Make your workers cranky enough with chapped hands, and they will revolt. 

4. Zonite Douche, USA. 1950

Courtesy of Duke University Libraries

Madam, there is no gentle way to tell you this, but I will try. Your bits … they are stinky. Your husband knows it. Your friends all know it. Your delicate area is causing all around you to suffer a miasma “more offensive than bad breath or body odor.” The result, I’m so sad to tell you, is that your marriage is falling apart, you don’t get invited to parties, and no one likes you. No no, put down that soap and water. Here, take this chemical that sounds like it was named after a space cult and do terrible, uncomfortable things with it. There, there, dear. Everything is going to be all right.

5. Listerine, USA. 1932

Courtesy of Duke University Libraries

What She Really Wanted Was Children. And now we meet another tragic, stinky lady. Miss Nickerson. We learn her story, how her wealth and young beauty should have snagged any number of potential husbands. But nothing ever came of it. And now in the twilight of her life (her late 40s), she makes a spectacle of herself in the streets of New York, fawning over her Pekingese and perishing silently into the madness brought on by loneliness. You know why, don’t you? Oh it’s almost too embarrassing to say. I’ll whisper. “Halitosis.” Oh, if only. If only she’d known about Listerine.