What Sells Better: Hope, Fear or Susan Boyle?

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I was just finishing off Martin Lindstrom‘s fascinating book on neuromarketing, Buyology, when a friend forwarded me a link to the now famous Susan Boyle, who took Britain’s Got Talent and then the world by storm last week.

Apparently the video of her performance was viewed on Youtube more than 20 million times in 48 hours, making it the fastest and biggest viral video in YouTube’s history. I watched and cheered, as did the audience.

Then, something hit me…

In Buyology, Lindstrom repeatedly spoke of how advertisers use fear as a primary motivator to inspire viewers to buy a product or service. And, he predicted that we’d see an ever-growing use of fear in advertising and branding, because it was so effective at tapping into peoples’ emotions and getting them to take action.

Then, along comes this video of Susan Boyle, one filled with hope, dream manifestation, and it captures the public’s emotion like no advertisement or video ever before. Including the graveyard of failed multimillion dollar videos created by zilliona-dollar advertisers in the hope of doing exactly what Susan’s video did.

What Susan Boyle showed is that fear sells…but hope ignites.

In fact, the top internet marketing gurus have known and profited mightily from this same realization. Guys like Frank Kern, Jeff Walker, Eben Pagan, Ed Dale, and others have all had massive internet product launches, multimillion dollar days in this economy selling massively expensive products.

Infomercial products abound, all selling on some level the chance to essentially step into the shoes of those touting the dream life. And, they all did it with a touch of fear and a landslide of dream manifestation.

They were, in the end, selling the shot at becoming them…

And, on even a more base level, back when I was teaching fitness classes and running my first fitness facility, I remember reading a survey that asked class attendees what the number one factor was that would make them return to an instructor’s class. The choreography? Nope. The workout? Nope? The music? Nope…It was the instructor’s body. Once again, it comes back to hope, dream manifestation.

Now, take that deeply rooted desire for dream manifestation and bundle it with extreme surprise and a healthy dose of the unlikely hero and you’ve got Susan Boyle, the one everyone made fun of, then let her rise above all who doubted her…and you’ve got pure magic.

Because, in that moment, when the audience turned from jeers to cheers, then ovations and tears, we believed in our hearts that anything was possible. That vindication, triumph and salvation were not only Susan’s, but ours for the taking.

If she could do it, so could we…

And, this makes me wonder, as an entrepreneur, a marketer and someone who’s obsessed with selling people on taking action that will make them come alive…

What might happen if we spent more time selling hope, and less time pedaling fear?

So, what do you think?

Let’s discuss…

P.S. – Be sure you are subscribed, because in part two of this series, we’ll get into “why” people are more emotionally driven by hope than by fear, despite what the pundits all say. The answer is sure to surprise.

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12 responses

12 responses to “What Sells Better: Hope, Fear or Susan Boyle?”

  1. Less time pedaling fear? More time selling hope?? Well that would never work. We’re all doomed!!



  2. Bud Hennekes says:

    Have you read ” The Science of Fear?” I highly recommend it.

    To answer your question Johnathan, the world would be a completely different place. We would see people following their dreams instead of being afraid of failure. We would see people living up to their fullest potential instead of settling for a “OK” life.

    If we spent half as much time as we did promoting hope rather than fear the world would complete transform. Unfortunately fear continues to be the dominating force in the world.

    But why?

    While hope provides tremendous benefit for humanity, fear is what drives people. Am I safe? Will my kids be abducted on the walk home from school? Will I be able to provide for my family?

    Why do you think CNN is riddled with stories of murder, corruption, and sex?

    Whats sad is today is the greatest time in history to be alive. Yet you couldn’t tell by checking CNN.

    The reason why a story like Susan Boyle ignites is because we eventually get tired of always hearing what can go wrong. Susan’s story is wonderful refresher. However the reality is that after watching the video millions of individuals turned on their T.V sets to be reminded how “horrible” the world is today.

    Hope is what this world needs. We need to stop being driven by fear. It’s up to us to make that change happen.


  3. Awesome stuff JF!

    Emotional triggers like fear and hope is what makes us achieve things in our lives that others only dream of.

    So why is it that some people are paraylzed by fear and others are motivated by hope?


  4. karin manske says:

    LOVE your article! I think we are on well on our way of changing from the old economy: capitalism, competition, selling fear, greed, fighting for money, etc. to the new economy of collaboration, web thinking, entrepreneurship, playing for money and selling dreams. In this world everybody can be a star. Way to go!

  5. Marie says:

    The Susan Boyle YouTube video became such a success because we can all relate to her story in some way. Her story identifies with people on a compassionate level. Yes, fear may work in certain situations, but it’s inspiration that will truly be a hit. Identify with your audience, don’t scare them.

  6. […] his excellent article What Sells Better: Hope, Fear or Susan Boyle, Jonathan Fields, author of Career Renegade: How To Make A Living Doing What You Love, makes an […]

  7. Inspiration trumps intimidation every time. I love your post. Witnessing inspired action will melt fear and allow productive dream motion. I listen to Susan and feel compelled to write… something I’ve been afraid to do. Pure joyful inspiration is contagious. I suppose we’ll never know who we inspire by following our dreams. I’m not sure that really matters, though, as long as we strive to inspire rather than sit in fear.

  8. Laurie Foley says:

    Hi Jonathan –

    I also INHALED Buyology. Found it fascinating and it is making me rethink how I market and how I encourage others, too. The whole idea of mirror neurons being part of what attracts us to images and descriptions, positive or negative, is something marketers need to understand. Add a dollop of dopamine when there is a trigger from a potential reward and it’s a nearly irresistible force.

    (self-promo alert) I’ll be discussing this topic with Roger Dooley tomorrow (4/21/09) on my Intuition Tuesdays call. Hope it’s not inappropriate to mention here but the topic is so dead-on. Thanks!

    Love your blog and will be very eager to see other comments on this topic,

  9. Thanks for another great post!

    I agree with Bud. I think that the world would indeed become a better place if we used more hope and less fear.

    We are emotional, that is something that sets us apart. When I saw that video I cried.

    After that I was one of those people who felt ignited. I’ve written more in the past week than I have in years, I have had a smile on my face, and I have set some new targets for some not so new goals.

    I don’t fear being homeless, jobless, or walking around aimlessly without grounding. That is exactly where I have been for a few months now and it turns out I have friends and family who are here to help me stay focused, fed, and loved. How can I really fear anything when I know, have the faith, that there are people out there who are willing to help and guide and protect me on this journey?

    For me, Hope and Inspiration are more motivating than Fear.

    If Susan Boyle can walk up on a stage and pour her heart out, if anyone can get up and have the Courage to go for it, then there is NO reason I shouldn’t try. In fact my spiritual advisor says, “that the glory of God can only be shown to others through ones (your) willingness to shine bright”

    If a willingness is all that is required of me, if my passion is a gift from the Universe meant to be shared and to inspire others, if all that I have to do is say “yes ME can” …….

    I’ve got some work I am looking forward to doing ;0)

    Love and Light,


  10. Sparky says:


    We all face fear everyday-we don’t need it pushed in our faces.When you face your fears head on-you have hope! Hope- that what you are trying to accomplish will work.
    Insperation from others who have gotten past their fears gives us the hope that ,we can too,succeed.”If other people can do it,so can I”.How many times has anyone watched the TV and said -shhhs-I-can do better than that and then turn around and do nothing.


  11. […] It reminds me of a post By Jonathan Fields that I read the other day.  (http://www.careerrenegade.com/what-sells-better-hope-fear-or-susan-boyle/) […]

  12. I sell hope but I do so mainly talking about fear, but not in a “What about the children!” kind of way. Instead I talk about fear is a good thing and how it can actually help us develop more hope and ignite us to greatness.

    So yeah, I guess I’m selling fear, but that’s just a feature – the benefit is hope. 😉