Fear Factor Gets Brink's Buzz -- and a Sales Boost

Ads Play to Consumer Worries That Crime Will Rise as Economy Falls

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Here's an effective ad technique: Prey on fear.

It's worked for alarm-system marketer Brink's Home Security, at least, whose sales jumped 10% on the back of a chilling campaign showing families' peaceful lives suddenly threatened by a home invasion. Of course, there might just be another factor propelling sales: consumers betting that crime will rise as the economy falls.

Brinks wouldn't comment for this story. But President-CEO Bob Allen recently told Reuters, "People do seem to be more attuned to security issues. We found the market has been more responsive recently to our marketing efforts."

Its spots have generated much buzz online. They've been labeled as sexist, and been alternately praised and mocked for playing on the fear factor.

Domestic threats
There are at least four different Brink's spots, but they're all generally the same: A woman is home alone as a spooky-looking guy attempts a home invasion by kicking in the door, but he immediately runs away as the Brink's Home Security system springs into action with its loud, high-pitched siren. Seconds later the phone rings, and it's a Brink's employee at a call center asking the woman if she's all right and alerting her that he's called for help.

In one, a woman is alone, preparing to jog on a treadmill. In another, it's a teenage girl at the top of the stairs thinking her parents forgot their keys as she hears the doorknob jiggle. In another, a husband pulls out of the driveway as a jogger bends down in front of his house to tie his shoe. As the husband drives away to work, the jogger kicks in the door where a woman is standing at the kitchen sink.

Brinks did not respond to queries as to what agency handles its account.

As might be expected, the woman-as-victim approach has baited the blogosphere. Gawker's women-focused blog Jezebel calls it "Home Security for Modern-Day Damsels in Distress." In a blog post under the heading "Badvertising," one blogger wrote, "We thank Brink's for the daily dose of irrational fear and for reminding us that as women we are vulnerable even when we're locked securely in our own homes."

But clearly it's hit a nerve: Brink's Home Security alarm sales were up 10% in 2008 compared with 2007, and fourth-quarter profit was up 21% over the year-ago period, roughly coinciding with the debut of the ad campaign. That's despite Brink's spending falling some $8 million last year to $26 million on measured media, according to TNS Media Intelligence.

Rising tide
The commercials can't take all the credit, as sales for Brink's chief competitor and the country's biggest seller, Tyco International's ADT Worldwide, are also up. Net revenue for ADT Worldwide increased 4.8% during 2008 compared with 2007. ADT Worldwide is Tyco's largest segment, bringing in 40% of its $20 billion in revenue last year.

That leaves consumer fear. "Profit-motivated crimes -- robberies, burglaries and auto theft -- are particularly likely to increase during economic bad times," said Jack Levin, a professor of sociology and criminology at Northeastern University in Boston. "Home-security systems protect against two out of three [robberies and burglaries], so I can see where it may actually be a rational decision for a homeowner to install a security system at this time."

One of Mr. Levin's peers, Richard Rosenfeld, a sociologist at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, told The New York Times in October that "Every recession since the late '50s has been associated with an increase in crime and, in particular, property crime and robbery, which would be most responsive to changes in economic conditions."

So far, however, the latest Federal Bureau of Investigation statistics for the first half of 2008 (the second half will be out later this year) show a continued drop in crime. Nationwide, violent crime fell 3.5% and property crime fell 2.5% during the first six months of the year compared with the same time period in 2007.

But bad economy or no, expect to see more Brink's spots soon -- you just might not recognize them. As part of a spinoff deal from its parent company, Brink's Home Security only has three years in which to use the Brink's name, and then it has to re-name itself. The company is expected to spend more than $100 million to rebrand itself by October 2011.

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