Is it reasonable for public relations practitioners to exploit womens’ fears to get press coverage? I ask after reading a press release from “Europe’s largest vehicle auction group”, BCA that claims to be helping women sell their car safely .
Without evidence of real danger, the release issues a “warning that women motorists selling privately are potentially exposing themselves to fraud, theft or even worse.”
The British Crime Survey 2004/5 is used to claim women are “three times as likely as men to be worried about physical attack and 14% have high levels of worry about car crime”.
However, when I checked data from the most current 2005/6 survey, it showed worry about car crime is actually falling – and the report states there was no difference between men and women for worry about car crime. Younger people are more concerned than older people – and fear is higher in those reading national tabloid newspapers.
Also the latest survey shows the reality of car crime is an ongoing fall in vehicle related thefts since the mid-1990s. Indeed, actual and attempted theft of and from vehicles is half the level of 1995. There is no mention of thefts occurring when selling cars.
But those facts are less “sexy” than fearful women – which the release exploits before presenting the solution – the car auction. This offers a “secure option for sellers.” Indeed: “BCA’s Sure-Sell service at www.sure-sell.info offers impartial advice to private motorists, as well as a secure way to sell and guarantee payment.” And so into the pitch for Sure-Sell – plus a “useful set of Do’s and Don’ts” for female car sellers.”
Although using selective statistical data – and possibly being exploitative in this example, does fear work as a behaviour changing technique? Bettinghaus & Cody (1994) report studies showing fear appeal messages are effective in raising anxiety and levels of worry. But, less effective in changing behaviour. Indeed, high levels of fear produce an avoidance reaction that negates the effect of persuasive messages.
In my view, this puffy press release lacks news (see It’s the ‘news’ stupid!) – and so comes up with the angle of women’s fear to seek to gain coverage for the client’s auction service.
It will probably get regional newspaper coverage as few journalists will probalby spend the time to check the data or reflect on the lack of news value. So does that justify the approach?