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.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

The Last Defender

In January 2015 Jaguar Land Rover (JLR) announced a year of celebration of their iconic Defender 4x4 ahead of the eventual ceasing of production of the model. Last week the last Land Rover Defender rolled off the production line in Solihull amid cheers (and perhaps a few tears!). The above is a selection of examples of publicity surrounding this final year of production. As car enthusiasts and nostalgics alike were offered one last opportunity to be part of a 67 year legacy, the Defender’s last year of production was greeted with an increase in demand and extended production hours to meet the flurry of final orders. Touting the last opportunity to own one of the most enduring icons of British motoring, newspapers aided JLR’s celebration in creating a very public farewell to the Defender. The resulting increase in orders is a perfect example of the scarcity principle.

The scarcity principle relies on a basic assumption that if something is rare, then it must also be valuable. Furthermore, a scarce product is seen as more in demand, and as such is perceived as more desirable. In advertising, it also plays not only on what consumers stand to gain by purchasing the product, but what they could potentially lose by missing out. (In this case, the last opportunity to own a piece of British motoring history). Scarcity can also provoke psychological reactance. Brehm's (1996) theory of psychological reactance states that if an individual perceives their freedom of behaviour to be restricted or threatened they become strongly motivated to restore that freedom. When an object becomes scarce or unavailable an individual's freedom to obtain that object is restricted, thus making it more attractive to them as they seek to restore the freedom they perceived to have been threatened by acquiring the product.

The impact of scarcity on perceived value has been demonstrated in research by Worchel, Lee and Adewole (1975). In their experiment participants were asked to rate cookies that were either scarce in supply, abundant in supply, or abundant and then scarce. In the scarce-change conditions experimenters either revealed the fact that the cookies were newly scarce was due to demand, or an accident. 

The table above presents mean responses to the three key questions when cookies were scarce or abundant, and whether this scarcity or abundance was due to demand or an accident:
  1. "If given the opportunity, would you like to eat more of this consumer item?" Whereby lower scores indicated greater liking.
  2. "How attractive is the consumer item?" Whereby lower scores indicated greater attractiveness.
  3. "How much do you think this consumer item should cost per pound?" Where answers were given in cents and higher numbers therefore indicate a greater cost value.
Where cookies were scarce, they were rated as more attractive and liked better by participants. Moreover, the cookies which had previously been abundant but were then scarce were seen as more attractive and liked even more, as well as being rated as having a higher cost value. Furthermore, when the scarcity was the result of demand, they were seen as yet more desirable. These results indicate that the scarcity of an object influences its perceived value, especially where the object had once been abundant. 

Thus, though tighter EU restrictions and changing times made the Defender's eventual retirement inevitable, the way in which the final year of production was publicised to exploit the scarcity principle ensured that the 4x4 icon was as popular and in demand as ever.

Brehm, J. W. (1966) A theory of psychological reactance. New York: Academic Press
Worchel, S., Lee, J., & Adewole, A. (1975) Effects of supply and demand on ratings of object value. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology,32(5), 906.

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