Lesson I Learned from a Drug Dealer

Marketing Lesson Learned From A Drug Dealer

When I was in my early twenties I was surrounded by a lot of surly characters.

One, Greg, was a well-known drug dealer. Steroids, growth hormone, that sort of stuff.

And, man, was he paranoid.

Always thought his phone was being bugged. Even had a device connected to the line that, supposedly, could detect any monitoring.

Who knows.

He later went to prison. So maybe not.

One day, long before Greg got pinched (as they say), I agreed to pop by his little condo to grab a bag of “stuff” for my roommate.

I knew Greg, and my roommate didn’t, so the rule was: I had to come alone.

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Yeah, I was an idiot. I know.

But it was the 90’s, I lived by the Jersey Shore, and this sort of thing was common amongst my misfit band of friends.

I didn’t think much of what I was doing… until Greg handed me the bag, shoved me out the front door, and slammed it behind him.

There, on his front stoop, I stood holding a plastic grocery bag stuffed with, what I later found out, were hundreds and hundreds of tablets of Russian Dianabol — a common drug used by competitive bodybuilders.

Enough to get me locked-up for a long time, if caught.

Needless to say, on the car ride home I was a nervous wreck. Paranoia of my own like I’ve never experienced before or since.

Every car that pulled alongside me was an undercover cop in my mind. Moments away from being swarmed by the feds, weapons pulled, being forced to ground.

Visions of being in an orange jump suit, locked away in some prison, flooded my mind.

It’s amazing where the mind goes and the images it conjures when filled with fear.

Thank God none of it occurred.

I made it home without incident. And, needless to say, gave my roommate an earful.

But, to this day I’ve never forgotten the impact that extreme level of fear and concern had on me, my thinking, my body, and my outlook.

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At no point during that 15-minute drive was I thinking about the “upside” of the situation (i.e. making it home safe and sound).

I wasn’t picturing the positive. I was only picturing the negative.


Because fear is one of the strongest emotions any human can experience.

It’s a powerful motivator. A potent driver of action rooted in the primitive make-up of our brains.

And it’s widely-accepted amongst social psychologists: Fear of loss is a much stronger inducement than is the prospect of gain. 

Most people will do a lot more to prevent a negative outcome than they will to achieve a positive one. They’ll do more to prevent the loss of $100 than they will to gain the same $100.

And this is why… right, wrong, or indifferent… so many of the most successful marketing campaigns are fear-based.

Cause it works.

Whether it’s ethical or not… that’s a discussion for a different day.

For now, two lessons:

  1. To have a powerful marketing message you need to move people on a deep emotional level. And fear is one of the most powerful of all emotions.
  2. Don’t agree to transport a mysterious bag of “stuff” for a friend. 🙂

Todd 🙂

P.S. While I don’t personally use much fear-driven marketing — more of a personal thing — we can’t dispute that in the right circumstance it works extremely well.

In fact, I recently did a full dissection of one of the most successful marketing promotions ever published. A fear-driven one.

You can see the whole thing inside A&M here.

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