When Dong Nguyen, developer of the mobile game “Flappy Bird”, announced that planned to remove the game from the App Store and Google Play, the internet went crazy. People who had the game installed prior to the cancellation tried selling their phones on eBay. Back in 2014, the prices went as high as $90000 for a phone with Flappy Bird installed, and you can still see them around, selling for $300 or $600… you name the price.
We all are capable of taking extreme actions when confronted with the scarcity principle, as detailed by Robert Cialdini for HBR in the article “Harnessing the Power of Persuasion”. I may not be the one buying an expensive phone to be able to play Flappy Bird, but I’m no one to laugh about the behavior of consumers when facing scarcity persuasion techniques.
Last month, I was checking out the availability of tickets for a concert using the Ticketmaster mobile App, and was pressured by the little clock counting down the minutes before I lose the seats that I was exploring. I know that I was pressured because when I arrived at the concert, the tickets were so far away that I could literally hit the ceiling of the American Airlines arena with my head if I decided to stand up. If I didn’t have the little clock pressuring me to make the purchase I would’ve taken the time to explore the map of the venue, and most likely I would have realized how bad the seats were.
I’ve been confronted with the same situation when making reservations at Hotels.com. They have information that updates in real time that tell you how many rooms are available at a specific hotel at that exact moment, and how many people are viewing the same hotel that you are studying. If the inner competitor we all have, kicks in, you rush to make the reservation to beat the digital crowd, and in fear of scarcity you may end up booking the wrong room.
Why do we do this? Why is someone willing to pay so much for a Streetwear brand as Supreme just because it is scarce?
Well, it turns out that if we look at it from the perspective of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs Pyramid (see picture below) we are very much aligned with our self-esteem and the need to be unique.
“People are meaning-seeking creatures”, mentioned Susan Fournier in conversation with Derek Thompson for an article in The Atlantic about “Turning Customers into Cultists”, Curiously, in that same article, Derek goes on to conclude that we as humans have the vulnerability of trying to be unique while belonging at the same time.
FROM SCARCITY TO RECIPROCITY
It is in that interesting human condition of trying to be unique, and wanting to belong that brands, and marketers are doing the transition from the Self-esteem to the Self-actualization, as explored by Max Lenderman for AdWeek.
Robert Cialdini in his article “Harnessing the Power of Persuasion”, mentions that charities will appeal to the persuasive technique of reciprocity to convince potential donors to give money. You have probably received the little calendar or the set of address labels to entice you to send money to a specific cause. But what if we are able to apply the same principle of reciprocity without sending any gift to potential donors? Maybe the best gift we can give to our consumers is the purpose of the brand and the good feeling that your consumers get when they align to your brand’s principles and purpose… not as marketing manipulation, but marketing our brands real intentions.
Our ultimate goal as marketers is to give consumers the gift of belonging, or aspiration to belong (reciprocity), as they achieve their self-actualization full potential, and at the same time awaken a sensation of uniqueness (similar to that produced when exposed to the scarcity principle) that is registered in the brain when we are acting with good faith and for a cause that feels larger than us. Our consumers will feel prouder giving the scarce resource of their attention if our brand has a purpose they identify with. At least, we as marketers should give them the option, if they rather buy a Flappy Bird phone it’s OK too. Evolution didn’t happen overnight.
It is not manipulation when you are marketing your real intentions.