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Life Health > Life Insurance

Fear in life insurance: right, wrong or innovation opportunity?

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I was going to title this article “The Ice Bucket Challenge,” but it was already taken.

The growth in awareness of and financial support for ALS (also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease) is inspiring. In fact, the ALS Association has over one million new donors and has increased its year-over-year donations 30 fold at the time this was written.

What is it about this campaign that made it take off, and what’s fear got to do with it? The ALS Association’s past efforts are similar to many other foundations that face the challenge of raising both awareness and money to fix an important problem. Those include walkathons and fundraisers with compassion-seeking stories of people affected by various diseases or afflictions. These are all excellent activities.

However, the Ice Bucket Challenge, absent of a story to most participants, has already raised 40 percent of the revenue that the walkathons have raised in 14 years. And it happened in just a few weeks.

Why? It leveraged a better kind of fear. If you ask people in the life insurance industry what sells the product, some might answer, “fear.”

Most would infer that they are implying the fear of death, or maybe the fear of their families being destitute in the event of death. Those are both very daunting things to deal with, like ALS.

But what the ALS association did, consciously or unconsciously, is use a different fear to motivate people to act and create exponential awareness. They used the fear of disappointment of others, and the fear of missing out (FOMO) on the opportunity to be seen as awesome.

The Ice Bucket Challenge involves people challenging their peers to dump a bucket of ice water on their heads to show their bravery publicly, and to write checks. The fear is not about dealing with ALS, but rather to not “wimp out” at the expense of the world knowing it. The answer was a simple five-second act. And once it was done, a new hero is born.

I know this because my nine-year-old godson challenged my husband to the task on Facebook. We did it. (“We” means that I dumped the bucket on my husband). Why? We wanted to be his hero, and not fail him for something so easy to do. In researching the previous works around fear in marketing (Pratkanis and Aronson in particular), it was suggested that there are a few factors that make fear work well in getting people to act. And the ALS association wins on all three.

They are:

(1) The fear must be real and relatable (e.g. disappointment of your friends/being seen as wimpy)

(2) The solution must clearly solve for it (e.g. once you do it, you’re done)

(3) The solution must be easily achievable (e.g. everyone has a bucket and ice water)

Consider seatbelts. One fear is that, without a seatbelt, car accidents cause death. Another fear is the “Click it or Ticket” law. Per #2 above, the seatbelt is a clear solution to the fear of a ticket. However, the seatbelt is not an obvious solution to avoiding grave injury in a bad car accident, as some believe that seatbelts can make injuries worse.

As for the life insurance industry, sorry. At best, you have two out of three.

If we use death as the fear factor, life insurance can’t solve that. If we use financial ruin to your survivors as a fear factor, life insurance can solve it, but it’s not easily achievable. In fact, there are about 18.7 million “stuck shoppers” who would likely agree.

So we either have to solve for “ease” or appeal to a more relatable, relevant fear. It may not be so obvious. In addition, we have competing fears, such as the fear of being ripped off or being seen by others as having made a bad decision.

An innovation opportunity lies with whoever explores this, and more importantly, tries something new.

Who is up for that challenge?


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