The Spell of FOMO

FOMO. The “Fear of Missing Out.” Perhaps you’ve heard of it. Perhaps this particular fear describes you or someone you know. FOMO is a phenomenon reported by 56% of social media users and it even has its own hashtag. This particular fear isn’t just of missing out on social media posts, it extends to checking email, phone calls, and more. More importantly to direct marketers, the driving emotion of the FOMO is powerful and when properly used, you can write copy and create messaging to leverage this basic human fear.

The term FOMO was added to the Oxford English Dictionary in 2013. The acronym may be new, but classically trained direct mail copywriters have recognized the power of the fear of missing out for generations. We can use it in our copy to effectively sell because of how our brains are wired.

With mobile technology today, it is genuinely possible to become addicted to social networks because of the fear of missing out. It’s now effortless to compare and evaluate our own lives against that of our friends.

A survey of social media users by and reported by Mashable suggests:

•    51% visit or log on to social networking sites more frequently now than two years earlier

•    The average person manages 3.1 email addresses (up from 2.6 a year earlier)

•    27% check their social networks as soon as they wake up

•    42% have multiple social networking accounts (61% for those age 18-34)

•    56% are afraid of missing something such as an event, news, and an important status update if they don’t keep an eye on social networks

These stats suggest you’re more likely than not to be in the spell of FOMO.

But the reality is this: we’re all wired to have basic fear. And without taking inappropriate advantage of your prospective customers, there are ways you can appeal to this part of the brain—the amygdala—with messaging to make your sales programs more effective. Here are three uses with FOMO in mind as you write copy and create message positioning:

•    First to Know. If you fear missing out, you must surely want to be the first to know of an important development, new product, or news. And, when you’re first to know, you’re most eager to tell others you’re first to know, and pass it along (to your benefit).

•    Inside Story. People like to have the inside scoop combined with effective storytelling. Combine the concepts of revealing your inside story with a unique selling proposition, or positioning, and the sum is greater than its parts.

•    Limited time. When there is a limited time a product is available, it intensifies desire to acquire it now. The challenge today, however, is that it’s easy for customers to check out competition and discover that limited time appeal has its limits.

These uses also create urgency in your copy. Writing copy and messaging based on this intense human primal fear will drive higher response. There can be no question that the spell of FOMO is real and a part of your customer’s minds.


Gary Hennerberg

After a lot of years in marketing and sales, this is what I know works:

Stories sell. Think unique. Stimulate emotion. Close deals. And here are a few other gems from my new book, “Crack the Customer Mind Code.” Know the persona, interpret your offer and let your prospect give themselves permission to buy. That’s how the brain is wired. It’s how people think.

What else? When I’m not breaking down complex topics (or ones marketers over-complicate) into easy-to-grasp stories that sell, I crunch numbers. Manage projects. Write. Teach. Lead.