Behaviour Change

PROPAGANDA FOR CHANGE is a project created by the students of Behaviour Change (ps359) and Professor Thomas Hills @thomhills at the Psychology Department of the University of Warwick. This work was supported by funding from Warwick's Institute for Advanced Teaching and Learning.

Thursday, January 22, 2015


Tick- Tock! Time has always been of the essence to individuals and having less of it has always been a problem. It is no surprise then, that gimmicks like the one above seem to work in engaging more people to take part. A lot of companies, stores and brands use the ‘limited time’ factor to aid in selling their product. Here, an online shopping brand ASOS has used a "24-hour only sale" to increase sales of their products. They offer a substantial sale of 60% (conditions apply) on a range of their items but for one day only. There is also a clock ticking the minutes away, after which the original price of the item is restored. This is known as the deadline technique in advertising which creates a ‘now or never’ situation for customers and uses the scarcity principle.

The scarcity principle explains how being in a short supply may generate a sense of urgency and anxiety for the customers. This works as an effective form of influence and causes frustration when the scarce object is not obtained. In this particular example, time is seen as the scarce object where there is a limit to the number of hours in which garments can be purchased. Once items have been purchased within the time limit, the individuals feel a sense of pride and accomplishment. 

In an experiment done by Worchel, Lee and Adewole (1975), it was found that when participants rated attractiveness of cookies, they rated cookies more attractive when there were only two cookies in the jar (scarce) as compared to ten (abundance). 

This can be seen in the table below which shows us that the cookies were liked significantly more in the no-change scarce condition than in the no-change abundance condition, F(1,122) = 13.45, p < .001. Similarly cookies were found more attractive in the no-change scarce condition than in the no-change abundance one, F(1,122) = 17.84, p < .001. Additionally, the cookies were seen as more attractive in the scarcity- change condition than in the scarcity - no change. Therefore cookies in scarce supply were seen as more desirable and attractive; and scarce cookies which were high in demand were rated higher on attractiveness, F(1,122) = 4.26, p < .05.  They also found that cookies that went from being in abundance to being scarce got a higher attractiveness rating. In this manner, scarcity can be used as a tool to increase attractiveness and likeness towards a product, thus increasing sales of the product. 

Table showing results from the experiment.

ASOS has used scarcity of time where this experiment used cookies. Hence, scarcity is a key principle in the process of persuasion and influence during advertising and marketing. 

Worchel, S., Lee, J., & Adewole, A. (1975). Effects of supply and demand on ratings of object value. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 32 905-914

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