Scarcity Technique #2: Deadlines

28.03.2017 |

Episode #8 of the course Persuasion science masterclass: Part II by Andy Luttrell


Another commonly suggested way to use the scarcity principle in your influence attempts is to use the “Deadline Tactic,” which is to restrict the amount of time someone has to take you up on your offer. By creating a deadline for the offer, you create scarcity—not in the amount that’s available, but for the more abstract idea of an opportunity.

You’ve likely seen this a million times before. “Limited-time offer!” “Today only!” These kinds of things put a deadline on your opportunity to take advantage of a magnificent offer.

But be careful. Even though this deadline technique is used very often and it’s often given as a way of implementing scarcity, you should know that limited-time offers may instead lead people to more closely consider the quality of your persuasive arguments. That is, rather than prompting more influence, the deadline tactic might instead just make people more closely consider your offer.

If your offer is really, objectively good, then limited-time offers are great, but if the offer isn’t actually that special, then limited-time offers may actually lead to less influence because people pay attention and then discover that you’re offering something that they don’t really truly want.

In what I’m sure is one of the few psychology studies to take place in the drive-thru of a Mexican restaurant, researchers manipulated whether or not customers were faced with a limited-time offer and whether that offer was any good (Brannon & Brock, 2001). More specifically, they gave people an opportunity to add a dessert to their order, and only sometimes would they say “you can only get this offer today!” In addition, they either gave a good reason to buy the dessert (e.g., “The cinnamon twist goes great with Mexican food!”) or a weak reason (e.g., “The cinnamon twist is not really Mexican food!“).

Overall, this wasn’t a popular dessert. On a normal day, only 1.3% of people chose to add the dessert. So did the scarcity appeal improve these odds? Well, when the offer was scarce (“Today only!”) and came with a compelling reason to get the dessert, nearly 10% of people added the dessert—way better than normal! But if that same scarcity appeal (“Today only!”) was paired with the silly, weak pitch, still only about 1% of people added the dessert.

It’s clear that scarcity alone is not enough. If something is a limited offer, people will perk up, so if they discover that the offer really is good, the scarcity will be a boost. But if they perk up and then find out the offer is worthless, the scarcity appeal may have done more harm than good.

To apply this notion, you can think about restricting the amount of time someone has to take you up on your offer, but make sure that you have a compelling offer to back it up. It’s not enough just to put a deadline on something that nobody wants, but if you have a really compelling, strongly argued position and you put a deadline on your offer, then you can expect an increase in compliance.

Tomorrow, we’ll move on to a new principle, which shows how easy it can be to increase compliance simply by giving a few reasons for your request.


Recommended book

“Trust Me, I’m Lying: Confessions of a Media Manipulator” by Ryan Holiday


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