Monday, August 26, 2013

The Marketing of Creating Product Anxiety

Daily, we hear of a new fad in the world of thirsty consumers. Apple rules the roost of having new products yearly. Recalling the years when Harry Potter and Twilight releases meant brands clamoring for attention still rings a marketing bell. Teetering on borderline obsessive, the anxiety attack is something I have explored several times before, and its a psychological facet that continues to amaze me.

What makes these tremendous launches a mega success even before they hit the earth are the hype  that they generate, which in turn induces anxiety amongst a majority of populations. Hype truly resonates with today’s yuppy and less yuppy generations alike, and is the apt verb used by’s ecstatic fashionnistas trying to carve a name or make a few friends based on inspirational looks. With multiple footholds of hype, anxiety comes into play, which in turn represents the gap between needs and wants.

While needs and wants represent the degree to which we aspire something, it is the level to which its utility and our anxiety align that predicts how popular it will be when it hits the public. This in turn can allow firms to manage their marketing expenditures, for if something creates an unaided hype, it can be profitable to reap the benefits of this induced anxiety. Yet, for a sustained hype, the product must also be positioned as somewhat useful; hence the utility aspect.

This gives rise to the Anxiety Framework, whose parameters and quadrants need not be confused with the Shopper Psychology framework. Utility describes the usefulness of something that we desire – a movie, a product, or anything. Anxiety is the level to which we want it (where notice that the want can be created, as  in aforementioned examples).


When high on utility and anxiety, products and experiences become a necessity. They are useful on many fronts of daily life, and with the ability to create enough anxiety to make the waits worth it, this is where every company, manufacturer, and experience maker wants to ultimately be. Apple often holds this enviable spot, being a category creator for MP3 players and tablets alike. The Macbook Pro (so frequently not called a laptop), with its portability and ease of working ability, is by far a necessity. Other laptops are substitutes in comparison, or perhaps a functionality.


A functional product or experience is one that is high on utility, thus incredibly useful in the objective it fulfills, but low on anxiety. Marketers have often either not adequately created the hype, or have not felt the need to create it at all. And yet, if sales are high, then unaided awareness shows that the product is truly a success. Showbiz underdogs and word-of-mouth movie hits like Slumdog or Million Dollar Baby exemplify this. And of course, the underhyped releases of laptops that still place Dell and Sony in business sans inflated anxiety shows that functionality can be a bread-and-butter winner for any corp.


Products and experiences that are so high on anxiety with a low relative utility are a craving. Our urge to watch cinema, for most, falls into the craving quadrant, unless of course we are aspiring showbiz stars seeking inspiration. A craving is the dream of modern day marketing, where with the use of public relations and social media can enable the creation of hype to fulfill the initial costs of investment. Thus, even though media showed a slump in the Deathly Hallows penultimate theatrical revenue, the tremendous hype ensured record openings. iPads can fall into this category, as many have reviewed that they are not the best for what they cost. And yet the sales refuse to plummet, as competitors come out with their own versions. My favorite craving was from Spanish accessory and jewelry line Uno de 50 – claiming to make only 50 pieces of any ensemble that was created. Scarcity indeed induces anxiety!


Low on anxiety and low on utility? While this lethal combination would make it sound like a company ought to close shop, products and experiences here thrive on the fact that they are a support to others. Often product complements, and sometimes even substitutes, fall into the support category. A cool multi-functional gadget (where the strangely shady advertising does not indicate the longevity of the product), a cheaper tech gadget, an unhyped, marginally ineffective but more economical smartphone would fall here. For even the worst of smartphones still have a market! As would the series of tech accessories – from underperforming stylus pens to low budget unexpected hits  that garner revenue nonetheless – Snakes on a Plane, anyone?

Notes to take?

As a corporation, try to always allocate marketing budgets wisely, bearing in mind what position your product, experience, or consumer output is attempting to take. Hype is a useful tool to generate anxiety in both your target market and growth opportunity markets. The key is to learn how to sustain the hype.

And consumers, watch thy anxiety level! Always try to match it, or rather pre-empt it, with utility. The “do I really need this” cliché never fails, albeit is often forgotten or found to be duller than a “I want it!” urge. Emotional drivers are always challenging to manage, as discovered in a study of emotional decision making. As always, things are easier said than done.

Sourabh Sharma, Communication & Social Media Research Expert at SKIM, an international consultancy and marketing research agency, has a background in engineering, marketing and finance from the University of Pennsylvania, and the Wharton School and Rotterdam School of Management. Having worked in marketing and product development at L’Oreal, followed by a stint in management consulting, he now passionately enjoys the world of social media, and can be found on every platform with his alias sssourabh. He is a food critic and a fashion writer, and documents these alongside strategy on his blog called 3FS. He may be reached at Follow him on @sssourabh.

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