Fear Monger Mr. Watson and His Ad Contribution

The annals of psychology contain both interesting advances in exploring the dark recesses of human experience, behavior and learning, but it also catalogs those experiments that today have proven most useful in advertising. Why advertising? Allow me to explain. Why did this come up today? An article I read in Alternet about the infamous (or if you prefer genius) John B. Watson.

What drives people to buy an extensive array of products, products that you may not really need? Take a look at the appeal at the core of commercials and see if you can detect the psychological aspect of the pitch. Go ahead. Watch your favorite programs and, as you do, keep a means of cataloging the core pitch near you. Do it for an evening. One thing you will find quickly is the target audience which is easily detected by seeing which audience experiences the problems, disorders, or concerns.

Some shows will be heavily based in pharmaceutical products for everything from blood thinners, erectile dysfunction, osteoporosis, acid reflux or weight difficulties or a need for an energy boost. Who’s the target audience? Not only do these products tell you the target audience, they give you information about the specific demographic at which they are aimed, the age, gender and even whether or not they value their looks and their lifestyle. Remember, there are lots of products now that pitch a lifestyle change, not something to ameliorate a disorder or real, heavy-duty disease.

Today, I am watching a segment on a morning TV show where they’re discussing “VAS Madness.” Do we need another disorder? This one isn’t a disorder, but a means to get time off from work (to recuperate, of course) to sit and watch March Madness on TV. Who came up with this? Perhaps a creative type or a creative type working for a group of physicians who do vasectomies and who are even offering “2 for 1" sales.

When did you ever hear of a surgeon offering this type of discount for medical services? Doesn’t this mean the guy has to find another guy who is willing to have the snip-snip job just to watch a basketball game? I think it does but I don’t think it would have reached the TV producers without the intervention of some PR agency. Real or not? Real, but not truly a wide-spread scheme to watch this important basketball series. It caught my attention, but I also found it really lame and heavy on questionable ethics. Widespread? I truly doubt it but the woman on TV pitched it as a major mini-segment as though it were really something that is spreading like wildfire out there.

Back to our friend Mr. Watson. Dear old John and his co-researcher, some would say mistress, Rosalie Rayner, decided to plan and execute an experiment that would disprove the theory of Sigmund Freud regarding the unconscious and how it plays out in our fears. Watson surmised that it wasn’t an unconscious conflict at all but something that could be learned and then could be unlearned with appropriate behavioral interventions. But, Watson, old man, you really did prove that early childhood experiences create underlying unconscious conflict. Ah, but you missed that one.

Their experimental subject was an unfortunate small child whose mother may have worked as a wet nurse in the hospital where the duo had access. Ultimately, and it was filmed, poor Little Albert was trained to experience intense fear in the presence of anything white and furry, beginning with a rabbit and working up to a Santa Claus mask.

Watch the film, read about it and decide for yourself how ethical this experiment was. BTW, they never did get to test their theory of behavioral intervention to counteract the original fear training. Now we are being asked to consider if Little Albert was a healthy child or had one or more medical problems.

Read the original article written by Watson and notice his total self-pleasure in the fact that an adult man was walking around somewhere and had an intense panic attack in the face of anything white and furry. Of course, he would immediately run to a Freudian analyst to rid himself of this “unconscious conflict.” Watson couldn’t have been enjoying it more — then he went into advertising to make his financial future incredibly secure.

Here is where you enter and you owe it all, or a lot of it, to Watson and his discovery that fear is a powerful motivator and it can sell lots of products or ideas to just about anyone. We’re all prone to the effects of fear. Think how fear is driving you to make purchases.

Are you afraid of looking old? Bang, fear hits you with new products to remove cells from your face (exfoliate), plump up your skin (an irritant, no?), get shots of a killer or paralyzing substance into your face or have some weekend-seminar-trained medical professional do a mini-face lift. You’ve been roped in. Have skimpy eyelashes? Okay, you don’t want to wear three pairs of false eyelashes like that “famous” woman does. So, you apply a product that will pump them up to grow, grow, grow. But it can also cause darkened skin and cataracts. No info on that is there from your doc or the film actress who used to hawk the product.

Afraid of becoming impaired in some way from falls that seem to come with advancing age? You can take any variety of products for this either as an infusion, a pill or some other method of administration. Side effects? Sure, that could be a new fear, but it’s avoided and carefully placed in extremely small type on a crawl across the very bottom of the screen or “ask your doctor” is suggested. I asked a doctor and know what I heard? “How am I supposed to know about this? I’m not an expert in it.” No comfort there so asking your doctor may not provide what you need to quell your fears regarding side effects.

Looking to ward off a generic attack on your brand product? Find a way to turn it from something useful to the potential for harm. How about stroke? Are you willing to take a chance with having a stroke by using a generic (and just where are they made and under what circumstances?)? Of course not, so stick with the “safer” brand product. Fear in action again.

Thank Mr. Watson for what he did? Yes, in some regard, such as the commercials showing the ugliness and pain caused by lung cancer from years of smoking. But see how his findings have been used to clean out our pockets from not just excess cash, but as much of our cash as possible. Afraid of lung cancer from smoking? Okay, switch to a vap where there’s no “smoke” like cigarettes. But don’t vaps have dangers, too? Nothing is as clean and harmless as it is presented.

Next time you watch a commercial or read an ad in any media, see where the fear resides and then think carefully about all of it. What’s not being said? Therein lies the rub.


Written by

Dr. Farrell is a psychologist, WebMD consultant, SAG/AFTRA member, author, interested in film, writing & health. Website: http://t.co/VT8mvcAvRz

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