I have previously been involved in the organisation of the Warwick Marketing Conference. Less than a week before the event we still had some tickets left to sell. We decided to send out the above email, stating that for a couple of days only the price of the tickets would be reduced. The persuasive technique we employed here is that of scarcity.
The scarcity principle relies on the idea that we are afraid of not being able to have something when we decide that we want it. Hence if something is made less available, whether this is through limited availability or limited time offers, it becomes more and more attractive to us. Consumers are thinking “if I want this I must buy it now, or else it will not be available if I decide I want it tomorrow.”
The effectiveness of this principle has been demonstrated by Worchel, Lee and Adewole (1975). In their study 146 female students at the University of North Carolina were told that they were taking part in an experiment concerning the factors that affect people’s preferences for various items. Each participant was informed that they would have to sample and rate a series of products and that the first of these was cookies. At this point a second experimenter would enter the room, carrying a jar of cookies similar to that already on the table in front of the participant. The table below summarises the 6 relevant conditions of the experiment based on what happened in the exchange between the two experimenters that followed. After these manipulations has taken place the participant rated the cookies that we now in front of them.
The results of the experiment are shown in the table below. Note that a lower score indicates greater liking and attraction. The cost score indicates how much participants think the product should cost per pound. Ignoring the low and high participation manipulation, we can see that the scarce cookies (only 2 when there used to be 10) are liked more and rated as more attractive than the abundant cookies (10 when there used to be 2); as indicated by the smaller values in the blue squares than in the green. Additionally participants stated that the price of the scarce cookies should be higher than the abundant cookies, implying that they value them more. The differences between the demand and accident conditions were not significant.
Accordingly we can see that when a product is limited it is liked and valued to a greater extent than when it is readily available. Hence in our email the fact that we stated that we were selling the last few tickets and that the lower price would not be available after the 6th March should mean that individuals place more value in the tickets at the reduced price. They should have been thinking “I must buy a ticket now, if I don’t they will not be there in a few days should I decide I want one” or “I must buy a ticket now, if I don’t and later decide I want one I will have to pay the full price.”
Reference: 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.