The FOMO Effect: Marketing in an Over-Connected World

By Emily Shea, VP/Partner & Executive Creative Director

March 11, 2014

Every so often, the lottery reaches some outrageous number and gains a little media coverage. Suddenly, people who never gamble feel the unusual urge to throw their hats into the ring, despite the fact that their odds of winning are actually worse than ever.

Humans are motivated by what we don’t have. Along with that motivation comes the anxiety of opportunity cost: the fear that there might be even better things out there that we don’t know about yet or haven’t considered before.

What if you were destined to win that lottery, if only you’d taken the time to stop at a gas station and part with a dollar?

In the marketing world, we call this the fear of missing out (FOMO). On opportunities, experiences, great deals, knowledge—and especially, on anything that our peers are already privy to. When friends make casual references to products we’ve never heard of, we feel like dinosaurs. When they brag about great deals on things we’ve recently purchased, we feel duped (and then hesitant about future buying decisions).


Examples of FOMO in Marketing

Not only are modern marketers aware of this tendency, but they’re now finding clever ways to incorporate it into their marketing strategies.

Rue La La references FOMO point blank, demanding attention by tapping into readers’ preexisting insecurity in this exact area.

With this simple email, Rue La La brilliantly reinforces relationships with potential customers and boosts the chances that future emails will get better response rates (since we’re all hardwired to reinforce our previous decisions).

Verizon’s GameCenter also directly references FOMO in their hashtag marketing campaign, featuring #FOMOH (fear of missing out on hockey) and #FOMOF (fear of missing out on football).

In another blatant FOMO example, I recently received this email from Express:

Notice how there appears to be a raging party in the background, despite the fact that this is just a clothing company touting a basic rewards program? (Notice, too, that the card says “A-List” on it—because who doesn’t want to be VIP?)

Apple doesn’t directly reference FOMO, but they’ve coolly mastered the principle in their product roll-out techniques. First, they use social media to build hype, purposefully leaking product details that hungry knowledge-seekers proudly expose to the world for them. (A side effect of FOMO is the desire to be the First to Know.) Then, they release a limited quantity of the new product, making people want it that much more and causing all sorts of brand hysteria.


Ways to Leverage FOMO

This Huffington Post article divides FOMO-based marketing into three distinct categories:

  • Fostering FOMO. Feeding the perception that people will miss out if they fail to engage with your brand.
  • Fighting FOMO. Offering FOMO insurance—for example, by curating lists of products, deals or opportunities for your target audience, keeping them comfortably in the know without all the work.
  • Flipping FOMO. Taking the countercultural approach by encouraging people to battle FOMO by rising above it—particularly, by unplugging. (People tend to appreciate marketing that feels like anti-marketing.)

One additional (and generally underappreciated) way to leverage FOMO in your marketing is to truly believe that people are missing out by not engaging with your brand. If you go into your marketing campaigns feeling like you’re manipulating people and exploiting their weaknesses, that sentiment will ultimately show through in your message.

Focus on the ways you’re honest-to-goodness trying to help people. Focus on the truly better lives a lack of engagement with your brand is preventing them from achieving. That’s the place where genuine, relatable (and successful) marketing campaigns come from.


What’s Next for FOMO Marketing

As with all marketing tactics, people will eventually gain resilience to FOMO. They’ll become selective about their FOMO and the brands they perceive to be worthy of it.

Huffington Post sees future brand managers asking themselves, “Am I FOMO-worthy?” Fans might truly love a brand, but even more importantly, do they fear it? In other words, are they uncomfortable with the idea of losing touch with it?


Do you see your brand as FOMO-worthy? If not, what would it take to get it there?


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