How Seriously Should We Be Taking Clowning Threats?

Media Division | October 10, 2016

Bad ideas can be contagious.  Pet rocks sell, summer tent pole movies repeat, and Farmville cost many a “friend.”  So when a couple of dimwits in South Carolina decided to lure young people into the woods wearing “scary clown” getups, is it any wonder that copycats have sprung up from California to Canada?

Praying upon, or possibly inducing, coulrophobia (the fear of clowns) “clowning threats” are the latest idiotic craze you can read about on the internet.  Here’s what’s going around, and why it’s no joke.

Clowning Around

The first “clown threat” came out of South Carolina at the end of August, when police responded to a report that scary clowns were luring people into the woods with the intent to harm them.  While the claim turned out to be unsubstantiated, news spread like wildfire and copycat incidents have sprung up across the United States and Canada.  As many as half of all states in the US to date have had at least one clown threat.

So far, there have been no serious injuries or deaths from these clown-related sightings.  Many of them have turned out to be hoaxes, pranks or imagination.

At this point, the biggest threat may be to working clowns themselves.  Students at the University of Pennsylvania even gathered to go on a “clown hunt,” which may have prompted scary author Stephen King to tweet, “Hey, guys, time to cool the clown hysteria—most of em are good, cheer up the kiddies, make people laugh.”

The IoT and Power

In the age of the Internet of Things ideas spread as fast as communications.  Revolutions can begin on Facebook. Families can communicate with video across nations. Wireless communication is in your pocket.

But to paraphrase a superhero, with great power comes great responsibility.  Quite possibly, that power is poised in direct opposition to demand, when it comes to sensation and the media.  Why psychologists grapple with questions such as “Why are people so afraid of clowns,” the media doesn’t wait for an answer.  Stories spread.  Fear escalates.  Hysteria ensues.

Police and other enforcement personnel have the responsibility to respond to credible threats, yet would there even be such threats without the contagion of fear across the internet and our device screens?

(The irony in even discussing that fear, while generating additional content about it…)

Be Prepared, Not Afraid

Perhaps an antidote to fear is a plan.  We prepare for a fire with drills and sprinkles.  We frame insurance coverage in anticipation of disaster.  We hire professionals when a situation exceeds our expertise.

So how do you prepare for a clowning threat?  Two things: know your enemy, and learn from the mistakes of others.

Since you likely do not have any real clown enemies, settle for a scary clown movie-a-thon, this October:

1. “It” (1990)—Stephen King’s novel turned film, the quintessential scary clown movie
2. “Killer Klowns from Outer Space” (1988)—because you need the occasionally misspelled title in your life
3. “Poltergeist” (1982)—you’ll tremble at more than just the scary clown doll under the bed
4. “All Hallow’s Eve” (2013)—if you want a little gore with your fear-flicks

Learn from Others

Watching a few scary movies isn’t exactly a research assignment, but from these and the subsequent media coverage, you can learn a few lessons.  Glean what you wish, but one of the biggest might be about PR, as in how clowns might deal with their reputation problem.  Here are a few free tidbits to the clown-lovers out there:

• Change your branding—if your current clown look is anything like the “scary clown” craze, it may be time for a re-branding.

• Remove the mask—people often fear what they don’t know, but if you start by showing your real face, or even an inside look at your make-up process, you might gain some understanding and alleviate fear in your audience.  (It goes against standard “illusion of theater” practices, but it might build your reputation).

• Get your own press—it’s time for clowns to educate the audience.  If you want your business to survive these threats, consider some self-promotion, a clown documentary, and turning to social media.  The old adage about “any press being good press” could spin all these clown threats to a booming business.

If you are not a clown, don’t even know a clown, and are sick of all this clown threat business, well, you can always turn off the news until the craze passes.  You have the power.

Massive's Media Division publishes timely news and insights based on current events, trends, and actionable cross-industry expertise.