Anyone who has studied or has a brief understanding of Economics 101 will recognise the marketing tactics used in the fourth face to the cube of persuasion very quickly. Since you were born, it has been affecting you throughout your life. When you were told you couldn’t have that box of chocolates, when you saw that kid playing with a brand new Rubik’s Cube, or seeing a Ferrari speed past, things you didn’t have or couldn’t have instantly became desirable. The fourth face to the cube of persuasion, the “Law of Scarcity,” is about supply and demand. When there is high demand, or less supply for something, the more rare and valuable it can be. Basic marketing tactics and sales training deals with this idea of scarcity for the potential of influence, which primarily is about creating desire for purchase.
It is no wonder that even at the birth of creation, Adam and Eve couldn’t stay away from the forbidden fruit, despite having the rest of the Garden of Eden to take from. Scarcity drives us crazy. Things are always more valuable and enticing when they are hard to obtain, or the last one on the shelf. By being prohibited from a product, we feel that our freedom is restricted and will experience psychological resistance and fight to restore that freedom.
One great example in history was a time when potatoes were made to be as valuable as gold. During the late 1700s, potatoes were regarded with suspicion, distaste and fear. The French believed they caused leprosy, the Germans used it as animal fodder, whereas the Russians presumed them to be poisonous. Catherine the Great, ruler of Russia, saw there was a great famine, and had high fences erected around her potato fields with guards stationed around to fend off thieves. Of course, the peasants of the town would watch and wonder why the wealthy were keeping the potatoes to themselves. Such an exclusivity of the potato created their desire, that eventually turned potatoes into a staple of the Russian diet (Pratkanis & Aronson 2001).
Catherine the Great’s campaign to transform the potato from something that was barely fit for a dog to eat, to a solution to the Russian famine, is the epitome of branding strategy and marketing tactics in play. By taking advantage of the human psyche in the persuasion process, you can increase the attractiveness of an object, simply by shifting the perception of its scarcity.
The Fourth Face to Persuasion is the Law of Scarcity
Brand and marketing consultants recognise that scarcity sells. We are all aware of the ads that scream: “for a limited time only,” “only available in this store,” or “sale ending soon.” And they work. Some marketing tactics include even deliberately limiting stock. Since the introduction of the Barbie doll in 1959, there has always been a toy that becomes the central, scarce item each year. We’ve seen the fads of G.I. Joe action figures, Magna-doodles, Furbies, Robot Poo-chi and Meow-chis, Pokemon cards and Tamagotchis. Due to the rarity of such popular toys, they were frequently out-of-stock. Through brand building and marketing tactics, it has been shown that the threat of potentially losing the opportunity to purchase an item will influence on the decision-making process. This mental trigger can cause tension and unrest and even such great anxiety in people that they will act to prevent this potential loss – even if they weren’t initially interested in the product in the first place!
Think of Romeo and Juliet. If the ancient feud between the Capulets and Montagues did not exist, do you believe Romeo would have been as committed to elope with her? We have been led to believe that love was an uncontrollable process, that these chemical reactions within us were unexplainable – but the impossible truth is that this can be controlled! Playing hard to get is one common relationship dynamic, based off the Rule of Scarcity. If your availability seems limited, you may seem that you are “in demand” or “one-of-a-kind,” increasing the perceived value of yourself. Whilst frustrating to the other party, we know that we must work for love, in order to play the game.
So what can this mean for business? Can you say “limited supply” in your communication? People tend to stay away from empty restaurants and popular clubs will have long lines outside, even if it may be empty inside! It’s about creating the perception of scarcity through artificial queues.
The challenge is to make your brand that forbidden fruit.
Pratkanis, AR & Aronson, E 2001, Age of Propaganda: The Everyday Use and Abuse of Persuasion, rev. edn., Holt Paperbacks, New York, ch. 30.
Westside Toastmasters n.d., ‘The Rule of Scarcity: Get Anyone to Take Immediate Action’ in The Rules of Persuasion, ch. 7, viewed 7 November 2012, <http://westsidetoastmasters.com/resources/laws_persuasion/chap7.html>.