Limited Engagement: The Scarcity Principle
Updated: Mar 31
This was written for CAS 832: Strategic Message Development in the Michigan State University Strategic Communications MA program.
In 1990, pop icon Madonna released the video for “Justify My Love,” a bonus track on her Immaculate CollectionGreatest Hits collection. MTV executives deemed the video’s content as explicit and banned the video. Soon after, Madonna released the video on VHS. It went five-times platinum at a time when “buying” a video was unthinkable (Morgan, 2015). This story exemplifies the psychologically persuasive principle of scarcity. Cialdini (2014) ties scarcity into the value and worth that people assign to products and services. If something is less available, then it is more valuable. Scarcity plays into the mindset that it’s worse to miss out on something than it is to gain something (Cialdini, 2014). The purpose of this paper is to examine scarcity and apply the concept to an advertisement re-write.
Supply, and Demanding
There is a “psychological reactance” that manifests through scarcity: it plays into our weakness for shortcuts and our distaste for losing freedoms (Cialdini, 2014, p. 244). Two of the most common examples of scarcity are the limited-number and the deadline techniques. When we perceive something as difficult to possess, we assign a level of quality that might be higher than reality. Similarly, when scarcity interferes with our ability to procure products and services, we psychologically rebel with increased determination (Cialdini, 2014). Competition stokes scarcity. A “feeding frenzy” mentality ensues when people are expected to compete for a finite number of products or services (Cialdini, 2014, 262).
Low Availability at the High Noon Saloon
Opened in May of 2004, the High Noon Saloon is a live music venue located in Madison, Wisconsin. The venue features local and regional bands and hosts karaoke nights. Many mainstream bands have played the High Noon Saloon: L7; Soundgarden; Queens of the Stone Age; and the White Stripes (Kjarsgaard, 2019). The venue seats 400 (Indie on the Move, n.d.).
Rocking the Scarcity Technique
In my ad re-write, I added “seats are limited” and “reserve now” to employ both limited-number and deadline ideas. These additions create urgency because this event occurs on a set date with a fixed amount of tickets. Don’t fret. Buy now. This is a free show, but I added two-tiered pricing with general and VIP admission. With the latter, I added “only 50 left” to reinforce scarcity through exclusivity. The creation of time-sensitivity could strike a chord with music fans—prompting immediate reaction by short-cutting the decision-making process. Additionally, I changed “Cathy’s Thank You Party” to “Cathy’s Farewell Party.” The name refers to Cathy Dethmers, former owner of the High Noon Saloon (Kjarsgaard, 2019). The “farewell” aspect implies a must-have, one-night-only, swan-song experience—especially for local music fans who champion local music. The public may elevate the importance of this show and feel compelled to attend—or suffer hearing what they missed. Fans lose their freedom in “farewell” because they have no opportunity to choose if she should stay or if she should go.
High noon could really break it down and include a social media contest offering free song downloads or CDs from bands on the roster—offering added value and consumer engagement through social media (Ackman, 2017). In the original ad, one of the bands is labeled as the “local rocker edition”—an existing scarcity technique that implies exclusivity.
Scarcity proves “you can’t always get what you want,” and “you don’t know what you got till it’s gone.” When it comes to dwindling availability, the song remains the same: we assign higher value and quality. When it comes to a dates and deadlines, we often leap the decision-making progress to avoid missing an opportunity. In the case of a revamped High Noon Saloon advertisement, we might justify our love of live music by ordering fast before tickets sell out.
Ackman, N. (2017). Ticket scarcity and the marketing of Broadway’s smash hit Hamilton. Retrieved from https://www.elon.edu/docs/e-web/academics/communications/research/vol8no1/09_Nicole_Ackman.pdf
Cialdini, R.B. (2006). Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion.New York, NY: Harper Business.
High Noon Saloon. (n.d.). Indie on the Move. Retrieved from https://www.indieonthemove.com/venues/high-noon-saloon-madison-wisconsin
Kjarsgaard, J. (2019, May 3). Founder, ex-owner Cathy Dethmers looks back as High Noon turns 15. Retrieved from https://www.thebozho.com/cathy-dethmers-high-noon-saloon-15-years/
Morgan, C. (2015, November 6). Remembering Madonna at her most controversial, provocative, and shrewdest. Retrieved from https://uproxx.com/music/madonna-justify-my-love-banned-mtv/