Why Broadview Security Keeps Making Ads That Scare the Hell Out of Us

Using sex in advertising is a tried and true way to sell a product. But one company is betting that fear may be just as effective. Broadview Security (formerly branded as Brinks Home Security (CFL)) has been airing ads that feature a series of scenarios that play on women's darkest fears.In one of Broadview's latest spots called "The House Party," a young woman connects with a handsome young man named A.J. at her dinner party. As everyone is leaving, she tells him it was nice to meet him. A few shy yet flirty glances are exchanged and A.J. walks away. But just moments later -- after the woman has blown out the candles and starts cleaning up for the night -- A.J.'s snarling face appears at her back-door window. He then angrily smashes through the glass.

Luckily for the woman, it's not the start of another Friday the 13th sequel but a tactic to demonstrate the effectiveness of a Broadview Security home-alarm system. When A.J.'s glass-shattering punch sets off her home's shrieking alarm, he dashes off into the bushes. The woman is then soothed by a reassuring phone call from a hunky Broadview employee who asks if she's alright.

Obviously, Broadview believes this advertising tactic works. Most of the security firm's ads follow a similar pattern: a woman is all alone (or alone with her young, defenseless children) at her well-appointed homewhen a criminal tries to break in, only to be thwarted by an ear-piercing Broadview alarm.Each incident is then followed by a comforting call from a handsome (and male) Broadview Security employee. (Check out more of the company's ads here, and a spot-on critique of the campaign from Current.com.)

Tapping Into Our Fear Center

Even though Broadview's ads have been criticized for exploiting women's fears, the ads aren't going to lighten up the spots anytime soon.

Why? Because fear sells.

"Fear, probably with guilt, will be the two biggest factors in pushing brands in the future," says Martin Lindstrom, the author of Buyology: Truth and Lies About Why We Buy and several other marketing books. "You can push fear in all different contexts: fear of not having enough insurance, or fear of not eating the right food."

There's actually a neurological reason for why fear is becoming increasingly effective advertising tool, says Lindstrom, who studied the brain scans of more than 2,000 people as they were shown marketing and advertising strategies. The amygdala, the part of the brain that generates fear, kicks in when a person's under stress, and tends to stay alert and receptive to fear signals until the danger goes away, he says. And in today's environment, with consumers concerned with everything from terrorism to the environment, there are increasing number of fear signals pushing consumers' buttons.

It's also no coincidence that many of Broadview's ads feature women threatened while at home or with their children. "Women feel they don't have enough time for their husband, their kids or themselves," Lindstrom says, adding that women's brains are hardwired with the desire to protect their families. "The consequence of guilt and fear is that we buy more to compensate. The security companies are plugging into that."

Using the Bogey Man to Boost the Bottom Line

That tactic has shown results for Broadview.The company said Wednesday that fourth-quarter revenue jumped 7.5% to $145.4 million, while sales for 2009 rose 6.2% to $565.1 million. Net income for last year rose an impressive 9.8% to $63.7 million.

Broadview's spots have been around for awhile, but they have aired more frequently since last June when the company changed its brand name from Brinks to Broadview and boosted its ad spending as a result. Previously, the brand had spent $40 million a year on advertising. But in the last half of 2009, the company boosted ad spending by an additional $20.6 million in order to help cement its rebranding, said vice president of investor relations Gary Samberson. Most of that was spent on new television spots, such as the one featuring a mom playing soccer with her daughter right before their home is invaded. The ads aired on more than 40 cable channels, according to Advertising Age.

Tyco International's (TYC) pending $2 billion purchase of Broadview shouldn't disrupt the company's advertising strategy. "We're still a separate company from Tyco, so because of that we're still continuing to compete in the marketplace, and that means running commercials and trying to drive sales opportunities," Samberson says. Tyco's ADT unit will absorb Broadview Security; ADT spokesman Bob Tucker declined to comment on its advertising strategy.

Samberson declined to comment on the commercials's impact on the company's sales, citing it as proprietary marketing information. Still, he explains that the spots are designed to create a "call to action." "Our approach on TV is direct response, which is oriented to getting a response from the consumer," such as calling Broadview to purchase an alarm system, he says. "The unfortunate reality is that these are occurrences that happen in everyday life."

Maybe so, but most consumers probably don't want to think that they live in a world where any acquaintance or ex-boyfriend may turn into a threatening criminal. The bad news for consumers is that this strategy works in pushing the buttons in the less rational parts of our brains, says Lindstrom. "The rational part of our brain will say, 'That's ridiculous,' but [security companies] are trying to bypass that by saying, 'You might think you are safe, but have you thought the people around you might be ones you can't trust?' "

Perhaps the scariest thing about the campaign? Fear-mongering actually seems to be an effective way to boost the bottom line.
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