Scarcity is an effective neuroscience advertising technique for encouraging strong sales for a specific product or service. Learn when scarcity appeal works well and see successful examples in our latest article on neuroscience based advertising appeals.

What are Scarcity Appeals?

Scarcity appeals rely on the consumer’s desire for the product or service and connect to underlying fears of not getting what they need. A form of doing without, scarcity reminds consumers that now is the time to act if they want to secure their future. When supply is limited and demand is high, a product or service becomes more valuable.

Scarcity appeals work well for products or services that are affordable or are on sale. They can be less successful for luxury products, which can lack the sort of mass appeal necessary for strong sales.

Scarcity appeals also work well for promotional tools including coupons, sweepstakes, and contests. They create a strong desire to act to “get in” on the offer and make it simple for consumers to convert by entering the sweepstakes, sharing the contest (to grow brand awareness) and taking advantage of the coupon to save on purchases.

When to Use Scarcity Appeals

Part of the seven emotional forms of neuroscience marketing and advertising appeals, scarcity is an adaptable and flexible type of ad appeal. Scarcity appeals are great for limited or time-sensitive issues. They lend themselves well to political campaigns, new product launches, seasonal sales, and events where the ad creative can instill fear of missing out. By suggesting that consumers must buy the product or service now to avoid missing an opportunity, or that there are a limited number of products and consumers need to reserve now, you can encourage sales.

Limited products can appear more valuable. When time is limited, and you have a service that can help, your service becomes more valuable and a strong ad creative can boost sales.

Scarcity appeals can create a negative perception toward your brand if overused or used incorrectly. If there is no sense of urgency in your ad creative, a scarcity appeal can land flat.

Think of tax services running ads in mid April: They know that many consumers have procrastinated on doing their taxes, don’t know where to start, and are willing to pay for last-minute help. By focusing on the April 15 tax deadline, advertisers can appeal to the consumer’s stress, anxiety, and fear of negative consequences that could arise from a late filing. There is a natural fit with scarcity. Were accountants to run similar ads in fall, when taxes are not on most consumer’s minds, the fit would be poor and their brand could suffer a a result.

Businesses that have used scarcity appeals well include Southwest, who offered a limited time airfare sale with the slogan, “If It Matters To You, It Matters To Us.” Consumers took advantage of the discounted airfare and grabbed tickets for holidays, travel, or “just because.”

Other businesses who have used scarcity appeals well include McDonalds, who promotes “limited time only” menu items like the McRib with a scarcity appeal, and Target, who advertised its exclusive limited edition Lily Pulitzer collaboration to much fanfare.

When you have a limited supply or a limited time to purchase, scarcity is a natural emotion to appeal to. By encouraging your customers to buy now, while they still can, you will increase sales and boost brand awareness for the duration of your campaign. Wield scarcity appeals wisely; don’t overuse them or you risk diluting the value of your services, products, or brand.