The other night I tucked my two oldest boys in to bed and popped down to my office in the basement for a couple of minutes.
I'm plowing through a few emails, when suddenly I hear the boys start making noise.
Now their bedroom is all the way across the house, so at first the sounds are pretty muffled. But a few seconds later it's getting louder and louder…
And at this point I can tell that they're pounding on their bedroom door and shrieking “Help, daddy, please help!”
My heart jumps into my throat, and my heart starts racing.
What is wrong? What did they do to each other?
The pounding gets louder and the cries more desperate as sprint up the stairs, taking them three at a time…
I can't remember the last time I felt that terrified. I had no idea what to expect as I burst through the bedroom door.
They both crowded around me, shaking with fear, horror on their faces…
And then I busted out laughing—I was laughing so hard I almost had to sit down.
What caused the ruckus?
Well, my 3-year-old son had apparently gotten out of bed (which he knows he's not supposed to do) and started rummaging around in a bucket of toys.
And mixed in with the toys he'd discovered…
[cue the theme from “Jaws”]
Who is that, you ask?
King Julian is this little Happy Meal toy—he's a lemur from the Madagascar movies. You push a button on his back and he sings, “I like to move it move it, I like to move it move it.” Real annoying.
Shortly after my sister-in-law “gifted” King Julian to the boys, the oldest decided that he didn't like the chanting. That dislike soon sharpened into fear. Yep, my muscular, broad shouldered 5-year-old would run away yelling from a plastic toy.
And his younger brother decided to gleefully exploit that fear, chasing his older brother around with the lemur-king droning, “I like to move it move it…”
Pretty soon, though, the younger one picked up on his older brother's terror, and they were BOTH afraid of that thing. At that point we squirreled King Julian away in a drawer where he couldn't hurt anyone.
As I'm telling my wife this story through tears of laughter, we pieced together what had happened. King Julian had turned up during some routine organizing and made his way back into the toy bin…
Nearly gave me a heart attack.
So what's the point here?
FEAR is an extremely powerful motivator. And in some cases, it's the only way to get people to take a positive action.
(Most nights I don't give a second thought to the boys making a little noise while they're winding down. But did I ever “move it move it” when I thought they might be in danger…)
If your product or service can legitimately save your prospects from future pain and suffering, then you have an ethical duty to SCARE them out of their complacency.
As the late “king of copywriters” Eugene Schwartz put it in Breakthrough Advertising:
“Effective advertising is “not about building better mousetraps. It is, however, about building larger mice, and then building terrifying fear of the mice in your customers.”
Give it a shot—your customers will be grateful.
Just do yourself a favor and try not to scare your kids while you're at it.