The Australian company SAMS has been working to create a new wetsuit design to lessen the fear of shark attacks. SAMS (the company name is an acronym that stands for Shark Attack Mitigation Systems) says their designs have been optimized to effectively hide surfers from a shark’s vision. The company hired scientists who explained that sharks are monochromats and therefore colorblind. Because of that the researchers chose patterns that they believed would both camouflage the wearer and also repel the sharks.
If that didn’t provide enough protection, the designers also worked with the theory that sharks don’t like to eat sea snakes and so designs were also created to look like the snakes. This is a questionable strategy, however, because the scientists admit that they only have anecdotal evidence of this.
All this work makes me wonder why protecting divers from sharks is such an important issue in the first place. After all, while the fear of being attacked by a shark is certainly terrifying, fatal shark attacks account for only four or five deaths a year – worldwide.
Four or five deaths across the entire planet. That’s fewer people than die from almost any other cause you can imagine.
In 2012 alone, 7.4 million people around the world died from heart disease, 6.7 million died from strokes, and 1.5 million died from diabetes. Based on these numbers, one has to wonder why so much interest and investment in a cause of death that kills only four to five people a year.
But whether or not the designs will work seems less interesting to me than the question of their marketability. After all, SAMS is not investing all their money because they necessarily want to keep people from dying from shark attacks – they’re investing their money because they want to profit from people’s fear of dying from shark attacks.
Okay, so maybe you don’t dive. Maybe the closest you’ve come to a shark is looking at one through aquarium glass or in Finding Nemo. Then why should you keep reading? Because marketers and politicians are using statistically unwarranted fear to sell their goods and services to you, too.
As horrible and frightening as terrorism and assaults are, for example, they kill a relatively limited number of people in this country; at least compared to the amount of press they receive and the amount of fear they generate.
Worse, those potential scenarios have become the go-to issues for politicians hoping to capture hearts and minds — and contributions and votes — of a populace consumed by fear.
Certain diseases and medical conditions, too, have become issues that pharmaceutical companies use to sell their wares, regardless of the truth that the conditions they protect against can be better dealt with by meaningful lifestyle changes such as diet and exercise.
But it’s not just the fear of death that marketers exploit. A tagline as seemingly innocuous as FedEx’s “Absolutely, Positively Overnight” exacerbated the fear of missing a deadline.
Miss Clairol’s “Does She or Doesn’t She?” played up the fear of being caught coloring your hair.
Even Viagra’s mandatory disclaimer, “…If you have an erection that lasts longer than four hours…” can be seen as marketing fear. In this case it’s fear of the painful condition known as priapism (although I think it’s actually a not so subtle brag for the product’s desired effects).
As we’ve discussed time and again in this blog, products are sold NOT for what they can do but for HOW they make consumers feel. And while it’s easy to believe that good feelings would sell more products, the amount of marketing based on fear suggests that just the opposite is true.
Look around at the people who are working the hardest to attract your attention and interest and you’ll see a host of presidential candidates who are using statistically unwarranted fear to get you to support and vote for them. I fear they’ve churned up enough blood in the water that it’s getting harder and harder to figure out who the dangerous sharks really are. And it will take education and awareness – not just one of SAMS’ suits – to keep us all safe from their attacks.