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.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

“More than 30 available” – I think I’ll pass

When browsing through Ebay the other day I came across two blue scarves, both equally as attractive but my decision to buy one over the other was a suprisingly easy one to make. The scarf that I did not choose to buy is shown below.

You may be asking yourself why not? It’s a perfectly fine scarf isn’t it? If you look abit closer however you can see that circled in red this advert shows that more than 30 of these scarves are available. Whoever was selling this scarf clearly had not read Cialdini’s book on ‘The Psychology of Persuasion’ because if he/she had done so, it would be apparent that the principle of scarcity is a key one to apply when trying to sell a product. Research in Psychology and Marketing has found that people often prefer items that are scarce rather than those that are readily available.  

This technique was demonstrated in a study by Worchel, Lee and Adewole (1975) who examined the effects of supply and demand on ratings of object value. Subjects were asked to rate the value and attractiveness of cookies that were either abundant or scarce in supply. In the scarce condition, the cookies were either constantly scarce or they began in abundant supply and then decreased. Subjects were told that this decrease in supply was either due to an accident or to a high demand for the cookies. In the abundant condition, the cookies were either constantly abundant or first scarce then abundant. The increase in supply was either due to an accident or to a lack of demand for the cookies.  

As displayed in Table 1, results indicated that (a) subjects rated cookies in scarce supply as more desirable than cookies in abundant supply; (b) subjects rated cookies as more valuable when their supply changed from abundant to scarce than when they were constantly scarce; and (c) subjects rated cookies that were scarce because of high demand higher than cookies that were scarce due to an accident.

This study reveals the power that scarcity can have on liking and attractiveness ratings of an item and can influence real life decisions such as the value and attractiveness of cookies. In light of the advertisement for the blue scarf that I initially came across on Ebay, this advert could be improved by applying the principle of scarcity as demonstrated in the study by Worchel and Adewole (1975), by making scarf appear to be in scarce rather than abundant supply. This is because consumers attach meaning to the products they buy and if a scarf is in scarce supply this is likely to give them the impression that many people have already bought it and thus, this provides them with social proof that the product is valuable. This advert could also be improved if like the study by Worchel and Adewole (1975), advertisers initially advertised this scarf as abundant in supply and then change to scarce supply. Whoever advertised for that scarf on Ebay might have a better chance at getting me to purchase it if he/she changed the phrase “more than 30 available” to something like “only 5 left” or even better “last one left!”

Worchel, S., Lee, J., & Adewole, A. (1975). Effects of supply and demand on ratings of object value. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 32, 906-914. 

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