What Coronavirus Can Teach Us About the News Media and Fear-Based Marketing

There has been a tonne of headlines declaring Coronavirus as a Global Health Emergency but all of those are not reasons to panic and we are going to talk about it.

News critics and consumers alike have long criticized the news media for sensationalising content in order to increase readership and click-through rate, and that seems to be the case with the recent Wuhan Coronavirus as well.

What Coronavirus Can Teach Us

Why sensationalized news stories attract attention
‘Scary’ videos and news blogs plague our social media feeds, spreading like wildfire. It quickly prompted people to take drastic measures like sweeping pharmacies clean of surgical masks and hand sanitisers to the point where hospitals are in shortage. But in actual fact, health experts namely Medscape and UC Berkeley-UCSF Joint Medical Program have explained that this disease is not something to panic about, and the anxiety about the virus may be out of proportion.

It seems as if headlines that are riddled with exciting or shocking stories or language even at the expense of accuracy and are so irresistible for readers to click and share.

The Junk Food Factor

There’s another point to be made about sensationalised news:

We love them.

Sensational stories are like the junk food of our news diet. You know ice cream is bad but tastes so good. Similarly, you know it in your gut that the news may be a bit of a mistruth, but you share it in your WhatsApp group chat anyway.

Indeed, an interest in the sensational seems to be, if nothing else, an all-too-human quality.

The truth about the Coronavirus

Comparing the numbers to other major pandemics, it is clear that some of the public fears may be disproportionate to real figures. In other words, amidst the overwhelming emotions expressed by the public, don’t lose sight of the larger picture in terms of risks in everyday life. spending too much time watching television while snacking is probably riskier than shaking hands.

In saying that, the science and health information behind the disease is not the primary focus of this article today. I would like to pivot the focus towards what we can learn from this regarding fear-based marketing techniques.

How “Scary” Sells with Fear-Based Marketing

Fear-based marketing is a type of marketing that focuses more on the symptoms of a problem than the problem itself.

This strategy aims at creating urgency and offering the advertised product as the most effective solution as well as magnifies the risks of not buying the displayed product or the consequences of not tackling the problem.


Consumers are afraid of missing a deadline. This could be an expiration date of an offer, a holiday calendar deadline or other imposed cut-off date. Dates will push consumers to take action.


Consumers want to be a part of “a club” that not everyone gets into. Put up a gate and watch how many people want to get in. This is exactly what many buyers’ clubs do with their membership fees. The fear-based marketing message is that the consumer will miss out on some incredible deals if they are not a member.

Potential Risks

Anti-aging eye creams, hair growth supplements, insurance policies and things like that often sell products by inducing the fear of “what if” and “it’ll be too late by then”. Even though prevention is better than cure is a very valid statement, sometimes sellers tend to emphasize on risks that are actually less than how it is portrayed.

So, should you use fear to sell your products?

We know that marketing that triggers emotions works.

On one hand, fear-marketing is a common and very effective method of marketing. On the other hand, if overdone, can be risky in sending the wrong message and take a hit on the reputability of your company. So, are the impacts on your brand reputation for unintentionally going overboard worth the potential sales?

Final Thoughts

What I want to say about Coronavirus is that we all should NOT be anxious, but alert.

The biggest lesson we can learn from the pandemic when it comes to fear-based marketing is this: always do your research and pick and choose the source of information to trust.

While it is important to explore various marketing techniques to grow your business, be careful to maintain ethicality and to not break the trust between your brand. Be tasteful in the information you spread as your message can have a large, uncontrollable impact if spread on social media.