Scarcity marketing is the business equivalent of playing hard to get. People want what they can’t have and scarcity tactics, if used well, can play on this desire to great effect.

It’s not a new method of marketing by any means and has been used to insight hysteria for decades, particularly with parents and their children in the run up to Christmas. But what has changed significantly in recent years is the platforms brands are using to deploy scarcity tactics.

In a bid to drive profits, social media platforms promise brands a direct line to engaged and highly targeted audiences. As a result, brands are able to dangle the carrot of low stock levels and limited edition products in front of an audience that’s chomping at the bit for the latest gear from their favourite brands.

So who’s doing scarcity best?

Kylie Jenner steals the crown. The youngest of the Kardashian clan, Kylie Jenner’s cosmetics brand, Kylie Cosmetics, uses scarcity extremely well. Her first makeup line reportedly sold out in a mere eight minutes and she hasn’t looked back since.

In the run up to Valentine’s day for example, Kylie Cosmetics posted repeatedly across all channels about the limited #ValentinesCollection, driving over 750,000 interactions on Facebook and 130,000 interactions on Twitter in the run-up to the seasonal peak.

However, according to one angry Facebook comment, the range sold out in under two minutes, and therein lies the challenge of scarcity marketing for brands. As much as it drives desire, it can also seriously annoy loyal customers.

How to get it right

Scarcity marketing requires an agile, responsive approach to avoid disappointment and ensure customers aren’t left wanting. Here are our top tips to increase your chance of success with scarcity:

1. Be transparent – you will, of course, sow the seed that there is limited stock, but ensure your audience knows just how limited it is. Having 10,000 units available is very different to having 1,000 units. Set their expectations and communicate early on so your audience is pepped up and not let down

2. Monitor in real time – this goes for stock levels and your community’s reaction. Know when you’re out of stock, communicate it immediately and keep a close eye on how your audience is responding to the news

3. Provide alternative options – you need to reduce the chance of your audience leaving without purchasing by providing alternatives. Kylie Cosmetics did this well, suggesting a range of other products that could be used in place of the #ValentinesCollection range

Scarcity marketing is a dangerous game to play. However, with the right formula social media can be the perfect platform for driving desire.


By James Lubbock, strategic client director of UK & Ireland at Socialbakers

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