Fearmongering or scaremongering is the spreading of frightening and exaggerated rumors of an impending danger or the habit or tactic of purposely and needlessly arousing public fear about an issue.[1][2][3]


Political campaign advertisements

One example of fearmongering in American politics is the Daisy television commercial, an oft-referenced advertisement used during Lyndon B. Johnson's 1964 presidential run. It begins with a little girl standing in a meadow with chirping birds, picking the petals of a daisy while counting each petal slowly. When she reaches "9", an ominous-sounding male voice is then heard counting down a missile launch, and as the girl's eyes turn toward something she sees in the sky, the camera zooms in until her pupil fills the screen, blacking it out. When the countdown reaches zero, the blackness is replaced by the flash and mushroom cloud of a nuclear explosion.

As the firestorm rages, a voice-over from president Johnson states, "These are the stakes! To make a world in which all of God's children can live, or to go into the dark. We must either love each other, or we must die". Another voice-over then says, "Vote for President Johnson on November 3. The stakes are too high for you to stay home".[4]

Product advertisements

Advertisers have also entered the arena with their discovery that "fear sells". Ad campaigns based on fear, sometimes referred to as shockvertising, have become increasingly popular in recent years. Fear is a strong emotion and it can be manipulated to suade people into making emotional rather than reasoned choices. From car commercials that imply that having fewer airbags will cause the audience's family harm, to disinfectant commercials that show pathogenic bacteria lurking on every surface, fear-based advertising works.[5] While using fear in ads has generated some negative reactions by the public, there is evidence to show that "shockvertising" is a highly effective persuasion technique, and over the last several years, advertisers have continued to increase their usage of fear in ads in what has been called a "never-ending arms race in the advertising business".[6]

Author Ken Ring was accused of scaremongering by New Zealand politician Nick Smith. The Auckland seller of almanacs made predictions about earthquakes and weather patterns based on lunar cycles, and some of his predictions were taken seriously by some members of the public in connection with the 2011 earthquakes in Christchurch, New Zealand.[7]

See also


  1. Oxford Living Dictionaries
  2. Merriam-Webster.com
  3. Fear mongering. (n.d.). The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Fifth Edition. 2011. Retrieved March 30, 2016.
  4. "Classic Political Ad: Daisy Girl (1964)". Retrieved 25 August 2010.
  5. Nedra Weinreich (3 June 2006). "Making Fear-Based Campaigns Work". Archived from the original on 24 December 2008. Retrieved 15 January 2009.
  6. Barbara Righton (December 18, 2006). "Fear Advertising". Archived from the original on 23 February 2007. Retrieved 15 January 2009.
  7. "'Reckless' quake claims not helping, says Smith". ONE News. 20 March 2011.
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