Beware the scare (tactics, that is)

My 13-year-old called me around 4 p.m. awhile back in absolute hysterics. She was crying so furiously that I couldn’t understand her. My heart sank, and the worst possible things were flooding my mind. After my brain started working again, I asked her to slow down (PLEASE!) and tell me what’s wrong.

She sucked up her tears long enough to say the words “FBI…break-in…15 seconds.” Now, my imagination really went into overdrive, and I was frozen by the thought that someone had broken into the house. I once again pleaded for her to explain and so she did.

She was at Gram’s house after school, and my mom had left to pick up little brother. Now, my mom’s only gone for about five to seven minutes, and my daughter has never had an issue with being alone for that short time. But on this day, the house phone rang and she picked up. It was a robo-call explaining that the FBI reports that a home invasion happens every 15 seconds and suggested you get a good security system to protect your home and family.

You probably get the picture and understand why I got that worried call from my daughter. All she heard was “FBI…break-in…15 seconds,” and her mind went racing.

Now, I understand that it wasn’t the company’s intention to scare the pants off a tween – at least I hope not. But it happened, and I think there’s a PR lesson to be learned. Words can scare people, and those same words stick in their minds. It’s all they recall. Studies actually have proven that negative words are more easily recalled by humans than positive ones.

Our team – when prepping our clients for interviews or speeches or even website copy – advises that all negative words are removed and never repeated even if someone else introduces them. If you are in the hospital, the last word you want to hear is “mistake.” If you’re in a restaurant, you don’t want to hear “dirty.” If you are in search of a good courier service, “slow” isn’t a crowd-pleaser.

And I suppose, some companies use scary words purposefully because they already know what we PR strategists teach, and they want the public to remember those words (and thus be scared enough into buying a product or service). But I say beware the scare tactics. You never know who is answering the phone.