Fear Can Build Brand Loyalty, Shows Study

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It's well-known anecdotally that horror can bring people together. A scary movie or haunted house trip can bring couples and friends closer than most communal activities as people cling to each other out of fear. It turns out, however, that such a strategy might also work for brands.

A new study set to be published in the Journal of Consumer Research later this year has shown that in the absence of other humans, people experiencing fear will often cling instead to the nearest product at hand. The leads to higher brand affiliation with such products - even more so than that established by sadness, excitement, or even happiness.

"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," said Lea Dunn, lead author of the study and a former PhD student at the University of British Columbia. "But, in the absence of friends, our study shows consumers will create heightened emotional attachment with a brand that happens to be on hand."

The study found that when fearful, people report higher brand attachment even to products that are not physically present. This could have significant implications for brand managers, who traditionally shy away from using horror product placement. One catch, however, is that brand attachment was only formed as long as the product was present during fearful moments. In other words, products would have to appear on-screen at the same moment a terrifying monster makes an appearance.

"Marketers are afraid of fear," said Dunn. "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."

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