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.

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

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’ clich?? 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