Is FEAR replacing FREE as the most powerful motivator in advertising & marketing?

With my gift already packed, shipped and on its way to Mom for this weekend’s annual honor for those women that nurtured and raised us, I was surprised and put off by a marketing offer I received this week from big box warehouse giant, Costco. While the e-mail offer highlights “Mother’s Day Flowers with a full-width banner ad, the product that commands all the attention sits under a headline with bolts of lightning through it: “Be Prepared For The Unexpected.” While monster sized and excessive package quantities are not unusual for Costco, it seems that the warehouse giant and Goal Zero are over the top with this survival kit that includes “food for 4 people for 9 months.”

For the big weekend celebrating mothers Costco decides to market a 9-month survival kit? I can imagine the choice of “9-months” must be a hat-tip to mothers, but really?

The ad promoting this “emergency food storage supply” not only commands more ad real estate than anything else on the page, it suggests and positions the product as a an “Escape Power Kit”. Get this, it’s also referred to as a Chef’s Banquet—a full pallet of 36 buckets. Reading the copy as face value, it would appear that in suggesting its customers be prepared, Costco and its vendor partner defines the “unexpected” as an extended getaway or a 9 month escape for 4 people. Escape? Would you like to escape with a pallet of 36 buckets of survival food? Not me.


First, the fact that such a product would be mass-marketed by a leading retailer is scary. I would expect something like this in a fringe publication or website. Have we as a society expressed so much fear—or are so afraid—that we look for products that would allow us to hole up for the better part of a year — just in case? Or, is Costco instilling fear in its customers by urging them to prepare for the inevitable apocalyptic disaster? I do know this, many chef friends would hardly call this product a banquet. Even if you a pregnant mother, do you need to cocoon with others for 9 months?

The more afraid we are, the more likely we will look for solutions to mitigate that fear. During my keynote speeches, I suggest to people in business and personal life, to step outside the comfort zone, take chances and trust—trust themselves and trust others. Fear is the blocker, the party -crasher and parade day storm. When we are afraid, we don’t take chances. We don’t grow, either.

Costco doesn’t care. They seem bent on preying on people’s worries, fears and insecurity. Look deeper into its recent email. Beyond that pallet sized survival kit, Costco throws another whammy: IDENTITY GUARD. That’s right, something else you need to worry about. This product not only targets those afraid someone might walk away with their identity, it throws another punch: “Find out what your creditor’s see.” For a retailer that succeeds by selling army-sized packages of toilet paper, ketchup, cleaning supplies and other products we don’t know we need until we find ourselves wandering aimlessly around warehouse racks while dodging forklifts, it is evident that Costco finds fear as a powerful sales tool. So, be careful!


By marketing these products, the eighth largest retailer in the world, Costco shows it isn’t afraid to try. Costco is taking a chance with these fear-based products. Or does it know something more? Will these products be successful? Or, will Costco fail to reach its sales objectives? Hard to tell. One thing is sure, through its Mother’s Day week email blast, it seems Costco is trying its best to put the fear of god into its customers.

When was the last time you took a chance? Accepted risk? Or, were willing to fail? Fact is, those who are afraid to fail will wallow in some superficial feeling of success — only playing it safe as a method to guarantee that success. Failure is our best teacher. Fear is our worst enemy. Our comfort zone is something we all need to step out of and leave behind—often.

My friend and fellow speaker, Jeff Salz, PhD says in his book “The Way of Adventure” that greatness belongs to those who are unafraid to fail, mediocrity to those who insist on always succeeding.”

Success is measured by how many times you have fallen and failed and got up and tried again. Legendary basketball hall of gamer Michael Jordan says “I’ve missed more than 9,000 shots in my career, I’ve lost almost 300 games. Twenty-six times I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”


What are your fears? Let’s try this: face them and embrace them. Take a moment and write down what you are afraid of on a physical piece of paper. Write as many things as you can. Now stand up and read them aloud. When you finish, tear up that piece of paper into as many little pieces as you can and flush them down the toilet. Now go try to do something you’ve never done, eat something you’ve never eaten or call a potential customer you’ve never talked to. It’ll be a lot easier now that you’ve flushed your fears away.

Do this again tomorrow.

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