What’s Your Vote? Delightful or Fear-Based Headlines?


Every once in a while – content comes along in such a serendipitous way; it makes you wonder. Is this a sign? At the very least, it makes you pay attention.

That’s what happened to me a couple of days ago when I came across this impressively produced newsletter from the creative folks at Unbounce, maker of CRO-driven landing page solutions.

The title of the relevant piece struck me immediately: “The Case Against Negative and Fear-Based Headlines.”

It was just last week that we published a post titled: “Be afraid. Be very afraid.”

In that post we talked about the amygdala, the ‘primitive brain’ at the core of our modern decision making.

To quickly recap – the amygdala lies behind our decision making, before logic kicks in. It’s a brain part that’s all emotion, and lies behind the ‘fight or flight’ coping mechanism. It is also why tapping into people’s fears is likely to cause them to act, and why this approach can be a recipe for successful, converting copy.

The Unbounce post, on the other hand, claimed that while some of their own most-shared posts have “spooky angles,” fear-based content is “neither delightful nor empowering.”

In fact, they claim that fear-based content is at odds with “a commitment to empower readers.”

However, I disagree that bringing to light a problem in a new and insightful way is de facto condescending and presumes that the reader is incompetent.

Like my grandfather used to say – “it’s not what you say, it’s how you say it.”

If there isn’t a problem – what need is there for a solution? Anyone who spent 2 minutes or more as a sales person knows this. Most marketers also know this. The point is – never raise the problem if you don’t have an actionable, clear, differentiated solution to offer. (Otherwise, why raise the problem?)

As a wise woman once told me – “you don’t come to executives with question marks. You come to them with exclamation marks.” This is the case whether you’re in sales, marketing, or any field and just happen to be talking to the boss.

As for headline/title copy, whether you go scary or not, don’t overlook the power of brain evolution. It can be pretty convincing. But, whether you’re fully convinced or not – test it! (see, exclamation mark). A/B test both flavors and go with the winner. Your readers might surprise you, they tend to do that.

Want to test out some scary and/or inspiring copy? Get in touch and let’s do great marketing together >>