The appropriateness of fear appeal use for health care marketing to the elderly: Is it OK to scare granny?

Abstract

In this paper we explore the intersection of three topics which have historically been singled out for ethical consideration in advertising and marketing: the use of fear appeals, marketing to the elderly, and the marketing of health care services and products. Issues relevant to using fear appeals in promoting health care issues to the elderly are explored with a consumer psychologist's theoretical view of fear appeals. Next the assumption of the elderly market's vulnerability and indicants of social or psychological function which would differentiate the elderly recipients of marketing communications are examined both in terms of function and ethical concerns.

Overall, our review of the theoretical underpinnings of fear-based communication and the psychological characteristics does not indicate that the elderly of today are particularlyvulnerable. While the elderly are probably somewhat more dogmatic than younger consumers and perhaps view outcomes from the perspective of their age, there are no indications that their psychological responses to fear-based appeals differ significantly from those of younger consumers.

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Suzeanne Benet is on the faculty at Grand Valley State University. She received a Ph.D. in Business Administration. She has also been on the faculty at DePaul University in Chicago. Dr. Benet's research has primarily focused on marketing to the elderly and related public policy concerns.

Robert E. Pitts is Professor and Chair of the Department of Marketing and the Director of Kellstadt Center for Marketing Analysis and Planning at DePaul University. He served as a member of the faculty of Jacksonville State University, the University of Notre Dame and the University of Mississippi. Dr. Pitts' research has appeared in numerous publications including theJournal of Marketing, Journal of Bank Research, Journal of Advertising, Journal of Consumer Research, Journal of Social Marketing Education, Journal of Business Research, Journal of Social Psychology, Southern Economic Review, Journal of Travel Research, Journal of Behavioral Economics, The Mid-South Journal of Economics, Psychology and Marketing, Marketing and Media Decisions andJournal of Insurance Issues and Practices. Dr. Pitts is the editor ofPersonal Values and Consumer Psychology (Lexington Publishers) and co-author ofBank Marketing, A Guide to Strategic Planning, andEffective Bank Marketing Issues, Techniques and Application. Over the past decade, Dr. Pitts has served as a consultant to such firms as General Motors Corporation, Congolium Corp-Kinder Division, National Standard Steel Corp., WalMart Corp. Training Programs, Illinois State Chamber of Commerce and Council of State Chambers of Commerce.

Michael S. LaTour is Associate Professor of Marketing at Auburn University. Dr. LaTour graduated with honors in 1986 in Business Administration. Dr. LaTour's research interests focus upon arousal responses to advertising and associated ethical issues. He has published in a variety of scholarly journals includingThe Journal of Business Ethics, The Journal of Advertising, Psychology and Marketing, The Journal of Health Care Marketing, andThe Journal of Public Policy and Marketing.

Second and third authors contributed equally to this article.

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Benet, S., Pitts, R.E. & LaTour, M. The appropriateness of fear appeal use for health care marketing to the elderly: Is it OK to scare granny?. J Bus Ethics 12, 45–55 (1993). https://doi.org/10.1007/BF01845786

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Keywords

  • Health Care
  • Marketing
  • Health Care Service
  • Ethical Concern
  • Psychological Characteristic