If you took the same Introduction to Economics class that I struggled through in college, you might remember this key lesson:
The law of supply and demand states that a low supply and high demand for a product will typically increase its price.
Why am I telling you about basic economic rules? Because changes in the supply and demand of products can result in the scarcity principle coming into play.
This psychological principle of persuasion coined by Dr. Robert Cialdini means the rarer or more difficult to obtain a product, offer, or piece of content is, the more valuable it becomes. Because we think the product will soon be unavailable to us, we’re more likely to buy it than if there were no impression of scarcity.
Brands can use the scarcity principle to persuade people to fill out a lead form, purchase a product, or take another desired action. Here’s an example: On many air travel booking sites, such as KAYAK, flight listings are displayed with a note that only a few seats are left at a certain price. Check it out below:
We know that airfare pricing is incredibly volatile — that’s why some of us wait until certain times or days of the week to make purchases — so the knowledge that only one seat is available at that price makes me think I should buy it now, instead of waiting and running the risk of paying more later.
Now that we’re all up to speed on scarcity, we wanted to highlight 10 other brands that successfully have successfully used the principle to market and sell different products.
8 Brands That Used the Scarcity Principle to Promote and Sell Products
1) Snap Inc.
Ephemeral social media app Snapchat’s parent company, Snap Inc., unveiled Snapchat Spectacles in September 2016: sunglasses that could record 10-second videos from the perspective of the wearer. But instead of selling the new gadget online or at a storefront, Spectacles were initially only sold via Snapbots — smiling, Snapchat-themed vending machines that were randomly dropped in cities around the United States.
There were never announcements in advance of the arrival of Snapbots — most awareness was generated on social media channels, and huge lines of people would queue hoping to purchase Spectacles before the Snapbot ran out of stock for the day.
Now, Spectacles are sold online or at a few more permanent pop-up locations, so there’s no need to line up outside a vending machine if you don’t want to. But for the initial launch, the Snapbots were a unique approach to the scarcity complex. Spectacles were available for a limited time only — just the day the Snapbot was in your city, and you had to beat everyone else trying to buy Spectacles before the machine sold out.
Plus, the product’s scarcity meant nobody — ourselves included here at HubSpot — could stop talking about the Spectacles. Blog posts and social media comments about the unique selling approach helped fuel even more interest in the products. And although we don’t have hard numbers about how the Spectacles are performing, MediaKix projects Snap will achieve $5 billion in Spectacles sales by 2020.
If you still remember the brief time when we were all obsessed with joining Google+, you might recall that its summer 2011 launch was by invite-only: Users had to be invited by Google or by friends who shared an invitation with them. Under this system of exclusivity, 10 million users joined Google’s social network in just two weeks. By September 2011, Google+ was open to all Google account holders, and 400 million people signed up within its first year. Over 100 million of these were daily active users, and Google started competing with other popular social networks for users’ attention.
Google+ isn’t as popular nowadays — and in recent years, Google started rolling back Google+ from the rest of its more popular products, such as YouTube and Gmail. But the low supply of Google+ invites back at the time of the launch resulted in high demand and a massive number of signups.
If you weren’t a big gamer back when Nintendo released the Wii gaming console in 2006, you might not remember that the Wii was one of the hottest commodities on the market. When it was officially released in November 2006, people lined up to get their hands on the Wii as soon as possible, but the mania didn’t end there. For nearly three years, the Wii was flying off the shelves and gaming stores couldn’t keep shelves stocked — despite Nintendo increasing its supply to 1.8 million and then 2.4 million units of production per month.
Supply eventually caught up with demand — 48 million Wiis sold later. By starting out with a low monthly production number, Nintendo ensured that customers would be clamoring to buy more right off the bat. The scarcity complex here made people desperate to buy a Wii whenever they could — especially after a Nintendo executive advised shoppers to “stalk the UPS driver” and to figure out when Wiis were being delivered to stores to get their hands on one.