[By Kelly McGuire]

Do you remember the first horror movie you ever watched? That feeling of creeping dread, the chills down your spine, heart-racing, shortness of breath, absolute terror?

Of course you do. No one forgets that feeling.

Fear is a powerful motivator in its ability to elicit a physical and emotional response. Above all else, fear is memorable. For this reason, the element of fear is often used as a tool to intrigue and captivate audiences.

Over the years, many PR campaigns have employed scare tactics to garner attention. A recent book launch provides an example of a fear-driven ploy, which used a rather abrupt method to frighten and thrill. Fans were invited to a private reading of a new horror novel by author Michelle Paver. Unbeknownst to them, a phantom guest would soon arrive. The disclaimer here should certainly mention that it is generally frowned upon to lock people in a room without their permission. However, whether staged or not, the event exemplifies a creative and unique approach.

One of the most famous campaigns to use fear to tap into the deepest, darkest corners of the human psyche was also one of the first to rely primarily on audiences’ online activity. In preparation for the launch of late ‘90s horror film The Blair Witch Project, the production company created a website detailing the legend of the “Blair Witch” dating back to 1785. Periodically, eerie videos and story snippets were added to the site, intriguing audiences and increasing anticipation for the film. By opening weekend, the website had earned over 21 million hits.

The use of fear as a motivator can be extremely successful when executed correctly. However, it is easy to miss the mark. It is challenging to achieve the desired outcome if audiences perceive the tactic to be too aggressive or upsetting. Regardless of the public response, shocking campaigns usually gain a great deal of attention. In turn, this sparks a debate already hotly contested in the public relations world: is all press good press?

(Photo by Shawn Carpenter via Flickr)

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