Scared Broke

Your toilet is full of germs! Your tooth enamel is eroding!

Your soap dispenser can give you a disease!

Criminals are waiting to break into your home the second you turn your back!

You could have a disease and not even know it!

The germs on your countertop could wipe out your whole family!

These are all advertising claims (paraphrased) that I saw in one brief television watching session. All of these claims are designed to terrify me into spending money on their products. I’m supposed to be so terrified that my tooth enamel is coming off that I’ll run to Target and drop an extra five dollars on premium toothpaste. I’m supposed to be so worried that I might pick up a germ from my soap dispenser that I’ll go pay twenty dollars for a hands-free pump. (Really? I thought you generally touched the pump before washing your hands and you would thus wash off any germs when you washed your hands. It shouldn’t mater if there are germs on the pump because you don’t touch it with clean hands. Maybe my problem is deeper than needing a germ free pump. Maybe I’ve been washing my hands incorrectly all these years.) The goal of today’s advertising it to terrify you into spending money on things you don’t really need.

If you want to keep more of your money in your wallet, you have to realize that most of these are manufactured fears, not realistic concerns. Many fear based ads center on our (irrational) fear of germs. But germs have been around since the Earth began. We actually need to be exposed to germs so we can build a healthy immune system. Living in a highly sanitized environment can lead to more colds, flus and allergies because your body never builds up resistance through exposure. To hear the advertisers tell it, though, one germ could wipe out your entire family. Not likely. Yes, there are some scary germs out there but your odds of contracting a killer aren’t that great. If you’re really worried, you can kill plenty of germs with a homemade vinegar solution at a fraction of the cost of pricey commercial products (and it’s safer for you, too). You really don’t have to fear the germs on your soap dispenser, countertop or in your toilet. (Are you putting your hands in the toilet? Drinking out of it? If not, the fact that there are some germs in your toilet shouldn’t really freak you out.)

If it’s not germs, it’s diseases/conditions. Plenty of commercials want you to believe that you have some disease that you might not even know about. The idea is to get you to ask your doctor for some prescription drugs (that will give you some more conditions and diseases in the form of “side effects”) or to send you running to the pharmacy for OTC meds. Chances are that if you had some dread disease or condition, you would know about it and go to the doctor. You wouldn’t need an ad to tell you that you might be sick. And if you did have the disease, I’m sure your doctor would have you on a good treatment program. If you don’t feel well, go to the doctor and get checked out. Otherwise, don’t worry about it.

Then there are the ads telling you that you have germs in your mouth or that your tooth enamel is eroding. Well, it’s all true. But is it dire? Not likely. Tooth enamel erodes as you age and it’s been that way since humans had teeth. If your mouth is otherwise healthy and you see a dentist for checkups regularly, it’s generally not a problem. Neither is having germs in your mouth. Germs are everywhere in your body, including your mouth. As long as you brush and floss regularly and see your dentist, it’s not a problem. Sure, if you never brush your teeth, those germs are going to become a problem, but you don’t need to buy the ten dollar toothpaste. The regular paste will do.

It goes on and on. There are plenty of ads to make you afraid of crime so you’ll buy their security products. There are ads that make a few gray hairs or wrinkles seem like death is on your doorstep. And don’t forget the ads that try to terrify you into buying a certain car because it will keep you safer than any other. Every time you turn on the TV, someone wants to scare you into buying a product. It’s no longer enough to simply tout the benefits of a product, they must induce fear. The more scared you are, the more you spend.

I don’t watch too much TV to begin with, and this is one of the reasons why. I have enough going on in my life that’s scary; I don’t need to be terrified by advertising. Before you spend out of fear, apply a little logic to the situation. If you really believe you may have some condition or that germs are trying to kill you, talk to a doctor before you go out and buy products. If you’re afraid of crime, do a little research about your area and see what the crime rates really are before you load up on security systems and guns. If you’re afraid that your car may not be safe enough, research it. Think things through before you just blindly consume out of fear. Chances are you’ll discover that most of these ads are just trying to terrify you into buying products.

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3 Responses to Scared Broke

  1. thriftygal says:

    Amen. We have been living in a fear driven society for the last 9 years and advertisers have jumped on that bandwagon. Car commercials are the worst. It’s a miracle human society has managed to survive without all these safety innovations.

  2. Sonja says:

    It isn’t just advertisers using the fear tactic US politicians do it too. If we don’t bail out the banks we’re all doomed. If we don’t bail out Fanny and Freddie our housing market will collapse. If we don’t bail out AIG the insurance market will collapse. If we don’t bail out the auto companies the last sliver of manufacturing in the US will disappear. Grow a thick skin folks, fear tactics apparently work and thus they aren’t going away.

  3. Dee says:

    Try reading the “active ingredients” list on toothpaste.
    Except for toothpaste for sensitive teeth, you will see only one ingredient: flouride. Check that same list on every variety of toothpaste, from plain cavity fighting to whitening, enamel strengthening, gum disease, and combinations of all of the above. Same active ingredient: flouride. Ingredients in the “inactive ingredients” will be different, but hey, they’re “inactive” (fillers, thickeners, flavoring, etc.) Oh, and the labeling on the box is different too.
    Different results from the same active ingredient? I think not.
    Just brush and floss daily with the cheap stuff. You’ll be fine.

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