When it comes to advertising, morality isn’t a topic often discussed. The typical headlines talk about maximizing ROIs (return on investments), creating customer engagement, developing brand loyalty, etc. The main theme is selling – discovering the best way to increase profits and drive up revenues.

Who doesn’t want to do that? We’re in business for a reason, well, maybe a few - we think number one is to change the trajectory of people’s lives. That said, profits and revenues put food on the table and food is pretty important. (Especially cedar plank grilled salmon. Need the recipe? Find us on Facebook. We’re happy to share.)

Unfortunately, not all effective ads use the most moral approach. But before we discuss the morality of ads, let’s take a look at why customers make purchases.

Typically, customers make purchases based on emotion and then justify those purchases with reason.

The most powerful part of this equation is emotion. Those who can stir the emotion of their target audience are more likely to influence their actions.

What are the most powerful emotions? Everyone loves to debate it, but love, fear, and anger always make the short list. The easiest of these three to control – at least initially – is fear. Here’s where the morality of marketing comes into play.

Sure, playing on customers’ fear can lead to the quick sales. But, what’s the cost? Does an ad that sparks fear deliver value to your customers and prospects? Does it make their life better in some way? Does it build trust in your brand?

We would argue it doesn’t. Through observation and personal experience, when fear is the motivating factor, the outcomes are neither beneficial nor long lasting. We would also argue it doesn’t lead to your long-term success.

Yes, an ad which reads, “If you don’t do X, Y – a horrible, terrible thing – will happen,” is likely to get people to react. At least immediately.

However, companies that continue to thrive don’t feed on negative energy. Their success is grown through positive associations. Take Nike for example. Their ads do not instill fear. They build up their audience. They inspire them to achieve more. When you buy a pair of Nikes, they are not saying, “buy these shoes or else…” They are inviting you to become a champion: to be the hero and overcome your own reasons not to exercise.

Is it fair to say fear should never, ever be part of advertising? No. At times it’s unavoidable. Fires are scary. Smoke detectors are darn important. But, as a marketer it’s important to understand when, how and if to use fear. It really comes down to what delivers the most value to your customer? Will it build up your brand or it chip it away.