Fear Marketing, Plastic Surgery, & Your Medical Practice.

Fear Marketing in Cosmetic Medicine


I use a number of gmail alerts to keep me informed about what's going on in cosmetic medicine on a weekly basis. (Daily would overwhelm me.)

I see all manner of press releases, including those from the plastic surgery and dermatology boards. 

In reading one of these, I was struck by the pervasive use of fear marketing and scare tactics that the society's use in their PR and marketing campaigns. While there are times when it's spot on to use these tactics, the universal use of them probably speaks to a political leaning rather than an effective one. It seems that board certification is often used as a fear tactic rather than a hook.

While this post may not be politically correct, fear and scare tactics are effective and widespread... especially in medicine (and politics).

So, I got to thinking about the use of fear marketing in medicine and when you should, and should not, use it. 

When to Use Fear Marketing

Some products and services lend themselves to fear marketing better than others. Cosmetic medicine is certainly one of these. Your patients wouldn't be coming in if they were not afraid of getting wrinkly and old. You’d skip the malpractice insurance if you weren't afraid of  an unforeseen negative out come or personal liability.

Before firing off your initial salvo of fear marketing consider your potential patient population . Fear marketing can (and is) used to drive patients to action across any number of medical areas. Think of these fears and how they motivate your patients.

  • Fear of aging - the mirror
  • Fear of embarrassment - Weddings, school reunions
  • Fear of loss - youth, personal image

There is an opportunity to leverage fear marketing to your advantage when patients find themselves motivated by fears. While discussion of this may not be popular, I've seen physicians who pray on this to the exclusion of all else and it can be very effective. The physicians who practice this are typically the ones who talk down to their patients. Patients often don't like it and I'm guessing, since I've got no data to back this up, that the satisfaction rate is low.

When Not to Use Fear Marketing

For services and products that make people happy, don’t exclusively dwell on the negative! Focus on how positive results can impact your patients life. There's an aspirational quality that works more effectively than fear.

Think of how glamour magazines (aspiration) change behavior and how anti-smoking ads (fear) don't have nearly the effect. 

A balanced strategy will capture a broader, more diverse group of potential customers that fear marketing alone. Better yet, fear derived patients are certainly much less likely to provide positive word of mouth advertising for you.

Fear Marketing Guidelines

Several points to make your fear marketing effective:

  1. Make sure the portrayed consequence of not taking action is severe, but not exaggerated.
  2. Make the patient feel that the problem is relevant to them.
  3. Provide a specific action that the patient can take to prevent the consequence from happening.
  4. Ensure that the patient believes that the proposed solution is effective in preventing the consequence.
  5. Portray the solution as something that the patient can easily do.

Provide the Happy Ending

Paint a picture for your patients that compels them to action. You want them to visualize themselves with a happy ending because they purchased your services and you become a security blanket that helps the customer sleep at night without the fear.