Fear, Nukes, Fallout Shelters and Copywriting

Fear, Nukes, Fallout Shelters and Copywriting


Chuck Ski Production is back with a new ad breakdown after taking an extended break for the holidays.

Coronavirus! Riots! Lockdowns! Toilet paper shortages! Lysol cans have disappeared! Food supply line disruptions! Inflation! Redditors versus hedge funds!

Amidst turmoil, people seek security. The prepper and survivalist industries thrive in this environment. Fear motivates. Fear also is a powerful tool for a copywriter.

Let’s turn the clock back to September of 1961 to see another time of high fear and an ad for a fallout shelter.

The failed Bay of Pigs Invasion of April 1961 set off fears that the Cold War between the USA and the Soviet Union was about to turn hot.

Before analyzing the vintage ad, let’s go to the movies. One TV movie scared the crap out of my 10-year-old self. It was the TV film “The Day After (1983).”

No alt text provided for this image

It was promoted heavily by ABC and got a massive audience of over 100 million Americans on the night of Sunday, November 20, 1983.

I just learned it was directed by Nicholas Meyer, who had done a fantastic job rewriting and directing “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan” a year earlier.

Meyer pushed to make things as realistic as possible to show the real horrors of nuclear war. The ABC TV execs got some of the graphic, gruesome parts cut, but plenty remained.

Five intense minutes of destruction ensue as Soviet nukes detonate into mushroom clouds.

The blast melted the flesh off of skeletons of people and animals. These bones then vanished in the nuclear wind.

Skyscrapers turned to dust. Everything was set aflame.

The blast spared nothing. These images were burnt into my memory and shook me for months.

Anytime I heard a loud noise in the air while in bed, I would think it was a nuke either heading out to the Soviet Union or coming from them to end everything.

The movie even aired in 1987 in the Soviet Union. It affected President Ronald Reagan, who said it was “very effective and left me greatly depressed.” The film’s power may have helped lead to the end of the Cold War.

Similar fears were running through Americans and Soviets back in 1961.

What can you do to prepare for nuclear war? In reality, there isn’t much one could do beyond moving off-planet or to Antarctica.

That didn’t stop the fallout shelter market to boom. Bomb shelter ads filled magazines in the Summer and Fall of 1961.

People who were powerless in the face of nuclear war sought any way they could feel in control and find safety.

Now onto my ad analysis! The ad below is from a magazine in September 1961.

No alt text provided for this image

Source for ad: Website FLASHBACK : DALLAS by Paula Bosse “Dallas Is a Major Target Area!” — Know Where Your Nearest Fallout Shelter Is | Flashback: Dallas

Fears of Soviet bombs falling from the heavens stayed high and reached their peak during the Cuban Missile Crisis from October 14 to 28th, 1962.

The large graphic of the fallout shelter is the first thing I notice. It dominates the ad and draws you in. It may be cramped, but everyone has a bed, and the parents sure look relaxed, and Dad can stretch out his legs.

There is a handy faucet, must be for water. There is plenty of shelf space for all those survival supplies.

Two air vents must help you breathe clean air.

After my eyes explored the graphic, the headline draws me in next: “Living FALLOUT SHELTERS.” Now things should be crystal clear what is going on.

Above the headline, a question subliminally gets you to think about “fallout protection” and brings in the social proof of “(And Who Hasn’t).”

Robert Cialdini’s book “Pre-suasion” shows consumers confronted with survival and fear will best respond to advertising that makes them feel part of a popular crowd. That larger community offers protection from danger.

The ad’s use of “(And Who Hasn’t).” fits right with this.

It ends with the answer to such an important and popular question: “HERE IS YOUR ANSWER!” The ad wastes little time to get to the heart of things.

You know who this is, and their name shows they specialize in shelters: “BY LIVING SHELTERS OF AMERICA.”

Next comes a general promise of benefits like “EVERYTHING A… Fallout Shelter Should Be…PLUS Many, Many Advantages…”

Then we have three features listed to apply to the logical brain: Civil Defense Rating; 20 Year FHA or Bank Financing; Pro Engineer Tested and Accepted; and “ALL STEEL CONSTRUCTION.”

A diagonal piece of text shows how the roof is a 24” thick concrete slab. It at least sounds like it can keep you safe (even if it can’t).

As a bonus, the slab is “convertible to garage floor or patio!” So you can put it to use even if the bombs never come.

In small print on the middle-left, the ad lists various features of the shelter. Three different clusters of bullet points help readability.

The right-middle has “PROTECT YOUR FAMILY!” with some more features listed in small print bullet points. They emphasize how it can be useful even if the bombs never come.

There are strange calls to action at the bottom: “ACT NOW!”; “MAIL TODAY!”; CALL TODAY—ALL DAY. These push the reader towards taking action.

The company will explain everything. They use a specific number to lend credibility, although I don’t know what they are comparing the shelter to: “INCREASES SURVIVAL CHANCES 4,000 PERCENT.”

They use a quote but don’t cite who said it. Perhaps it was a jingle used in radio and TV commercials: “A PLAYROOM TODAY—SURVIVAL—RIGHTAWAY!” It does rhyme, and maybe it is a catchy jingle someone would recognize.

You can call or mail in a coupon for more information. There is “No Obligation” to get more info.

I would make this offer more irresistible by giving value beyond just information and answers to questions. Perhaps a pack of potassium iodide tablets to help reduce radiation poisoning as an enticement.

The ad doesn’t push the pain point of fear and survival. They went more with a positive presentation of how this shelter helps you.

I think the ad would work better if they hammered home the devastation coming from a nuclear bomb. List out scary facts like how powerful a bomb is with detail, like having the power of 1.2 million tons of TNT.

Perhaps the magazines of the time didn’t want ads that were too negative and scary. Much like how the ABC executives wanted to water down the graphic scenes of nuclear blasts in “The Day After.”

Next time, I will look at a current ad for a survival shelter and see how it compares to this one.