Scarcity – ENDING SOON!
For the next couple of weeks we’re going to be presenting a series of articles on Cialdini’s Six Principles of Persuasion as they relate to marketing, with a dash of the social science behind them. Today it’s our last-ever blog on persuasion, so read it before it’s going-going-gone!
Is there any kind of advertising that provokes a more emotional reaction than scarcity? The urgency of the last minute deal is intense and almost visceral – and it often brings out a very unpleasant side to us. From inconveniences like being sniped on an eBay purchase to the mayhem that occurs during Black Friday sales, the desperation for something which is about to slip from our figures is in all of us.
The reason why scarcity affects us so profoundly is because of the ‘scarcity heuristic’ – a mental shortcut that means that the harder something is to obtain, the more value we perceive it to have. Generally, heuristics are useful things which speed up decision-making so we don’t have to ‘manually’ think through every little thing. However, it sometimes results in cognitive biases which can be exploited for persuasive purposes – which is exactly the case for the scarcity heuristic. There are four aspects of scarcity which are particularly prone to bias: quantity, time, rarity, and censorship.
According to reactance theory, we will fight to keep as many options open to us as possible, so as to maintain our power of free choice. A reduction in quantity of a resource threatens that freedom, so we covet that resource to keep our options open, giving it a higher value than it has during times of plenty (e.g. your favourite book is now out of print, so it becomes more valuable to you). Rarity applies to objects which are difficult to get all of the time, either because they are difficult to find or difficult to replicate (stamp or trading card collectors both feel this pain!). Salespeople can use time to hard-sell things very quickly – this is a limited time offer! Finally, as every parent knows, something which is restricted or censored becomes more desirable almost as an automatic reaction.
Scarcity is a powerful method of persuasion. It’s very difficult to resist the allure of something that is hard to get, forbidden, or about to slip out of your fingers. But fear not – this is for a limited time only! Just wait til we get a Star Trek-style post-scarcity economy! We’ll have to rethink this whole thing, but I can’t wait to 3D print a spaceship.