Cialdini Principles of Persuasion Series – Principle 6: Scarcity

April 28, 2015 | blog | By Mike Sullivan


We’re here! It’s the end of the road for our exciting Cialdini principles of persuasion series. While we enjoyed bringing you ideas about the best ways that brands can use persuasion to get an advantage in their industries, we still have one, final principle to tell you about: scarcity.

Scarcity, of course, is when you’ve got a very limited supply of a product or service. Think of it as a shortage. Now, even when scarcity is merely perceived, this will ratchet up the demand for the product or service—which is when this brilliant Cialdini principle of persuasion really starts to work!

This principle is likely one of the most popular marketing techniques ever used. You know you’ve seen commercials and signs touting a “limited time” only sale or availability for a product or service. That’s exactly because scarcity has always been shown to work. There’s nothing quite like making people think that they’re going to miss out on something because supplies are in short demand!

We’re going to take a look at some inspiring examples of challenger brands that have been making scarcity work for them.

TigerDirect.com’s Daily Deal Slasher

If you don’t mind the fact that “slasher” brings up images of a machete-wielding villain from a horror movie, you’ll discover a brilliant application of the scarcity principle on TigerDirect.com. The company trails Amazon.com—the biggest, Internet-based retailer—by a wide margin, so it has to think outside the box.

Enter its Daily Deal Slasher page, which presents shoppers with several products whose prices are being cut, but only for that specific day. This increases demand because it arbitrarily takes back the deals on the page after a 24-hour period. As a result, shoppers looking at the page are more likely to feel a sense of urgency to “act now” to buy whatever product’s being slashed.


A true thing of beauty is the ominous countdown clock—in black, no less!—at the top of the page, reminding every shopper that they only have a certain number of hours, minutes and seconds to act fast before the deals are gone forever.

Albertsons Online Weekly Ads

Albertsons is the number two supermarket chain within North America, right behind Kroger. One way to catch the attention of shoppers is to entice them with different deals and specials, something that Albertsons does on a weekly basis courtesy of its “online weekly ad.” There, shoppers will find discounted prices on all sorts of food items, with just one catch: The prices are only good for one week.

This persuasion tactic introduces scarcity based on time. The prices in the online weekly ad will only be good for the week. Once the week’s over, the attractive prices and deals on the foods are gone, along with the savings that shoppers could’ve received, if only they acted quickly within the specified period of time.


If you think about it, this scarcity approach is actually quite merciful, in that shoppers have a whole week to act on the offers and deals in the ad. That’s certainly a lot more leeway than the above example, where shoppers for TigerDirect.com only have a matter of hours to take advantage of a certain deal.

Neil Patel Uses Scarcity for His Availability

In inbound marketing and entrepreneurial circles, Neil Patel is quite well-known as an ambitious, young visionary who helps an array of companies make a lot of money by analyzing their websites’ performance. To that end, he’s co-founded two SaaS analytics companies, KissMetrics and Crazy Egg. For all his success, though, Neil’s companies are challenger brands to the unsurprising leader in the SaaS, web-analytics industry: Google Analytics.

So what’s a savvy entrepreneur to do in such a situation? How does he take on the big dog of Google? Naturally, he creates artificial-but-legitimate scarcity by limiting his time and availability for his consulting services.


Phrases such as “Hurry! Only 1 spot is available,” are very effective at creating urgency in the minds of any clients. This urgency in turn creates increased demand for Neil’s consulting services, which in all likelihood should drive up conversions on his sign-up form.

WEBS’ Anniversary Sale

For many businesses, an anniversary is an opportunity to celebrate by passing the savings on to the customers. That’s a formula that’s worked for many decades, which is why retailers continue to hold anniversary sales today.

LOOMIS Imagibrand Process

WEBS bills itself as America’s Yarn Store—you can literally get all sorts of yarns for all of your knitting and crocheting wants right on its website. This April just happens to be the 41st anniversary of this proud business! And guess what it’s doing to celebrate? WEBS is holding a 30%-off anniversary sale all through April, but only on select yarns and accessories. In fact, you can only get 50 of its yarns and accessories on sale for April.


This anniversary sale is particularly interesting because it has two, specific scarcity principles going for it:

1)     Quantity-based scarcity

2)     Time-based scarcity

Quantity-based scarcity refers to the fact that only 50 yarns and accessories are on sale for April, not every item on the store’s website. Time-based scarcity is rather obvious: the anniversary sale for these specific 50 items will only last through April, and then the opportunities for savings are gone forever.

Scarcity Helps Brands Be More Persuasive

Scarcity is a stellar psychological principle to use in your marketing because it plays on people’s fears to a certain extent. It plays on their fears of losing out on an incredible deal or savings, and it also plays on their uncomfortable feeling of urgency. This makes scarcity a highly persuasive technique when it comes to the out-of-the-box way of thinking brands have to pursue to gain market share.

It’s interesting to note that scarcity isn’t a one-dimensional type of persuasion principle either. It can be based on different concepts, including numerical scarcity and time-based scarcity. As long as challenger brands are somehow alerting their customers to the reality that they’ll lose out if they don’t act quickly, the scarcity principle will be in full effect.

This is the last entry in our Cialdini principles of persuasion series. The official count stops at six—unless the good doctor identifies more in the future! We hope you got as much out of it as we enjoyed bringing it to you. Next week, we’ll be back with more of our usual best practices, tips and case studies on how challenger brands can succeed with smart marketing.


Mike Sullivan

President at LOOMIS, the country’s leading challenger brand advertising agency


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