The Levison Letter

The only thing we have to sell is fear itself   
October, 2011


It's a simple fact. Fear sells. Which is why copywriters have been scaring prospects with dire warnings for generations.


An early example of an ad intended to frighten the reader was written many years ago for the American Thermos Bottle Co. The company wanted to explain that milk should be kept cold and that a Thermos was a great way to keep it cold for days. The ad featured the chilling, none-too-subtle headline:


A Fly in the Milk May Mean a Baby in the Grave


The body copy starts like this . . .


"Flies are the most dangerous insects known. They are born in filth, live on filth, and carry filth. Flies carry millions of death-dealing germs and leave them wherever they alight. Flies are attracted to milk . . ."


You can see where the copy is headed: to the purchase of a sealed Thermos.


To see the actual ad, complete with a drawing of a huge death-dealing fly, CLICK HERE.


If copywriters don't have a disease or a problem to frighten people, sometimes they'll just invent one.


EXAMPLE: Years ago, when Listerine's ad agency first got the account, they obviously could have positioned the product in an infinite number of ways. (Just as you can position your product or service in an infinite number of ways.)


They could have positioned Listerine as the inexpensive mouthwash, the premium mouthwash, the great-tasting mouthwash, the super-powerful mouthwash . . . You get the point.


Which way did the agency go? They chose to position Listerine as the mouthwash that could prevent the dreaded disease "halitosis."


Yup. They found out that the scientific word for nasty breath was halitosis and then began a campaign designed to convince everyone that they were at risk for this horrible affliction. If you had halitosis, everyone would talk about you behind your back. The only way to avoid being a pariah was to keep rinsing withListerine. The advertising agency used the tag line:  

"He said, that she said, that he had halitosis!"


The result? Listerine mouthwash flew off the shelf.


So what's the take-away message this month?


I'm suggesting that you consider using the fear motivator in your own ads, emails, Web pages, collateral, you name it, when appropriate. Now, I'm NOT advocating going overboard, or being tacky. But there are times when you can use fear, broadly defined, to your advantage.


For example, how's this for a little fear-mongering lite? 

  • The offers ends October 31, 2001 and will not be extended. This is your last chance to order your Widget SL-80 at 50% off! If you fail to act now, you will miss out on an opportunity that will not come again! 
  • I want you to know that our seminar will present vital technical information that is not available anywhere else. Your competitors will be there. It would be a pity if they got a preview of our new technology while you were sitting in the office.
  • Have you ever been named as "The Defendant" in a lawsuit? As many people have discovered, the experience can be absolutely devastating. That's why it's so important that you take advantage of the free offer I'm making right now . . . etc.

You get the idea . . . 




If you need help with the copywriting of a sales letter, email, Web copy, you name it, give me a call at (415) 461-0672 or shoot me an email at I'd be happy to quote you a price on the spot. A reasonable price. Give me a call and let's talk.

How to get in touch . . .
Phone: (415) 461-0672
Fax: (415) 461-7738
Visit my Web site


Ivan Levison. Direct Mail, Email & Advertising Copywriting
14 Los Cerros Drive, Greenbrae, CA 94904
Phone (415) 461-0672      Fax: (415) 461-7738

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