FUD in Copywriting

Fear is paralyzing. And fear is important for marketers to understand and leverage. Fear is an instinctive response. And there is science that helps to explain why fear is all-consuming.

Imagine how your message enters your prospect’s mind where it zips past radar. The radar detector in the brain’s processing pathway is called the Reticular Activating System (RAS). The RAS acts as a filter that determines what message goes to your conscious or subconscious mind. 

The RAS filters the incoming information. Unknown to you, it commands what you pay attention to, influences how aroused you are, and filters what isn’t going to get access deeper in your mind. 

Before messages gain entry to your higher, thinking mind, the RAS assesses the input. If there are stress and negative emotions, you react instinctively and the “reactive mind” processes and sends the data right to the amygdala—the intuitive part of the brain that reacts in “fight or flight” mode. But if your mind is calm and there is relevance in the message, it goes further into the mind for processing.

The amygdala, or lizard brain, has an evolutionary purpose for humans to survive. It is alert to basic needs: anger, fear, and reproduction with memory formulated over a lifetime as it assesses how to respond to survive and reproduce. 

It is important to understand the role of the amygdala as a part of brain function. How the amygdala is stimulated and calmed can influence a prospect’s desire to buy. When you stimulate your prospect’s mind using FUD—fear, uncertainty, and doubt—the mind stops thinking and goes into survival mode.

On an individual level, fear is your greatest attention-getter. And let’s clarify the distinction between fear and safety. Fear doesn’t keep you safe; fear is a secondary response. The function of the amygdala is to assure your survival.

The amygdala is on high alert when you experience negative emotions like fear, uncertainty, or doubt. Physiologically, when this happens, the brain absorbs available nutrients and oxygen and you go into survival mode. New information can’t possibly get in. Your brain is stressed.

So to get further inside the brain, you must moderate the mood, or better, restore a positive mood. Once you calm and focus the brain, the amygdala opens the gate to send information to the prefrontal cortex, or the “thinking mind,” to store memory. 

Turn around the mood, and guess what happens? The amygdala rewards the mind with a neurochemical that strengthens the staying power of information presented. People remember more when they in a positive emotional state. When the mood moderates, the information passes along to the hippocampus. Here the mind merges new sensory information with past memories and knowledge.

When the mind focuses in a positive state, then “executive functions” take over. These functions include:

  • Judgment
  • Analysis
  • Organizing
  • Problem solving
  • Planning
  • Creativity

With those “executive functions,” the mind can turn memories into long-term knowledge.

Marketers can leverage the power of fear to stimulate emotion, but to be effective, you must quickly calm the mind so that decision making is unblocked and you can move your customer to the thinking part of their brain where they can make decisions. 


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.