Principle #7: Scarcity

28.03.2017 |

Episode #6 of the course Persuasion science masterclass: Part II by Andy Luttrell


Surely you can imagine that when something is locked behind closed doors and inaccessible to you, you want it all the more. When someone takes away something that you want, you want it all the more. When you can’t have something, that’s exactly when you want it the most. We tend to think that the things that are inaccessible to us are somehow more valuable than the things that are readily available.

The “Social Rule”: If something is scarce, it’s more valuable.

The Principle of Influence: You can gain compliance by creating perceived scarcity by leading people to think that something is relatively scarce—that there’s not very much of it, either in terms of actual quantities or the amount of time they have in order to capitalize on some opportunity, making it limited.

Creating the perception of scarcity can create greater perceptions of value, and thus make people more likely to want whatever it is that you’re offering.

One classic example of this is the “Disney Vault.” I’m not too sure if this is still in practice anymore, but I imagine it is. However, for years, Disney was releasing their films on DVD only once in a while. They would release the movie Cinderella, and it would only be available for a short amount of time and then it went back in the so called “Disney Vault” where now you can’t get it anymore. “We’re going to release it for a short time! This is your chance to get this product, but once it’s gone, it’s back in the vault, behind closed doors. We’re lockin’ the key and not telling you what the combination is!” I’m exaggerating, but it’s a clear case of creating the perception of value (artificially, perhaps) by controlling how much is available. By creating and manufacturing scarcity, Disney was able to increase the value of these limited-run products.

There’s a dark side of scarcity, though. It can make people turn on one another. If you’ve ever seen the movie Jingle All The Way, you’ll know the lengths that people will go to in order to attain something that’s rare! In this movie, two characters both want to buy a special toy for their child, but there are very, very few available. The laws of scarcity are fierce, and they make this toy all the more valuable, but it gets out of hand and the competition brings out the worst in them. And this isn’t just a holiday movie plot; a lot of research (e.g., LeVine & Campbell, 1972) has shown that perceived scarcity of opportunities is one key origin of prejudice and discrimination.

Over the next couple days, we’ll dive into two scarcity techniques drawn from the underlying principle. The first—the “Limited Number Technique”—concerns how much of something is available and thereby manipulating perceived value. The second—the “Deadline Tactic”—concerns how much time is available for someone to receive something of value. The tighter the deadline, the higher the value! But we’ll save those details for the next couple days.


Recommended book

“Methods of Persuasion: How to Use Psychology to Influence Human Behavior” by Nick Kolenda


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