The scarcity rule is a marketing technique designed to make us panic buy when we think things are of reduced availability. We’re around it all the time: ‘closing down sale’ (the shop is still open 2 years after), ‘get it before it’s gone’, ‘for a limited time only’, it never ends. We’re currently facing our yearly plight as I write this blog: how many creme eggs do I buy if they are only available until April? ‘Here today, goo tomorrow’- well, April. But we buy into it don’t we? Even though these eggs are around for four months of the year (yes, that is almost half of the year), we scoffulate quicker than Bruce Bogtrotter, for fear that we won’t be able to taste this delectable goo enveloped in creamy chocolate until next year. I even want some right now, and I’m allergic to dairy.
Brock (1968) created the commodity theory, and scarcity was the central focus. It was hypothesised that “any commodity will be valued to the extent that it is unavailable”. This would make a certain amount of sense, because if something is deemed to be very limited in availability, we naturally believe there is a reason for this. We usually come to the conclusion that the item is good, and therefore many people have already purchased it, hence we value it more, and our desire to own this item increases. Fromkin, Olson, Dipboye, & Barnaby (1971) found that subjects placed greater value on an item that was scarce as opposed to when it was in abundance, therefore supporting this theory.
Worchel, Lee and Adewole (1975) looked at the effects of scarcity within food by asking subjects to rate the value and attractiveness of cookies that were either in abundant supply or in scarce supply. In their first experiment, which I will focus on, 146 female students were asked to sample various items and rate them on a number of dimensions (122 pieces of data were eventually used due to extraneous variables). It was only the cookies that were measured and there were varying conditions including:
-Another researcher asking for additional cookies for their group due to high demand (demand condition)
-Another researcher exchanging jars as they had accidentally took the experimenters cookies (accidental condition)
-Another researcher came to check cookies and left (no change condition)
So what did they find?
It was found that scarcity led to an increased liking for the cookies, as subjects showed a stronger desire for the cookies that were in the demand condition, rather than the no change condition, F (1, 122) = 13.45, p < .001. Cookies were considered more desirable even against the cookies that were accidentally taken, F (1, 122) = 6.39, p < .05.
Commodity theory was also supported due to the fact that cookies in the demand condition were deemed more attractive compared to those in the no change condition, F (1, 122) = 17.84, p < .001.
There were no significant differences between conditions regarding taste. This study effectively shows us how our perception of certain items, particularly food, can change when we believe there is a high demand and there is not much left. We deem things to be more attractive, and therefore want it more.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to embark upon a love affair with some creme eggs, I ONLY HAVE UNTIL APRIL!!!!!!! #whatallergy?
Brock, C. (1968). Implications of commodity theory for value change. In A. G. Greenwald, T. C. Brock, & T. M. Ostrom (Eds.), Psychological foundations of altitudes. New York: Academic Press.
Fromkin, H. L., Olson, J. C., Dipboye, R. L., & Barnaby, D. A. (1971). A commodity theory analysis of consumer preferences for scarce products. Proceedings of the 79th Annual Convention of the APA, 6, 653-654.
Worchel, S., Lee, J., & Adewole, A. (1975). Effects of supply and demand on ratings of object value. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 5, 906-914.