What is the principle of unavailability? Of course, you can quote a definition from the Dictionary of Psychology, but we prefer to start with a short story about diamonds in Japan.
The best advertising campaign ever?
In post-war Japan, diamond imports were illegal until 1959. Diamonds were not highly valued by the Japanese because giving diamond engagement rings was not part of Japanese tradition. However, in 1968 Japanese magazines were flooded with advertising campaigns depicting slim, attractive Caucasian women wearing diamond rings. The ads carried the message that women who have diamonds embody Western wealth.
Over the next thirteen years, Japanese consumers became the second largest purchasers of diamonds. By creating the impression that owning a diamond ring was something reserved for the rich, the scarcity principle came into play and demand for diamonds skyrocketed. To maintain this belief, another marketing ploy had to be devised.
Interestingly, diamonds are not a rare commodity. Instead, the amount of diamonds on the market at any given time is carefully controlled by just a few companies, including De Beers. These companies buy most of the diamonds and then control their availability. This makes the interest in diamonds even greater
This clever and sophisticated marketing ploy has worked since the 1960s, but the diamond industry has taken this control a step further. In order to keep diamond owners from reselling their diamonds, and thus create less demand so that the amount of diamonds on the market doesn’t accidentally increase, massive advertising campaigns continue to associate diamonds with romance, sentiment, and the slogan “diamonds are forever,” in order to limit the resale of private treasures
A quirk of human behavior
Interested in increasing customer desire? Here’s a classic study that demonstrates the psychology of scarcity while revealing an interesting quirk of human behavior.
In 1975, researchers Worchel, Lee, and Adewole wanted to know how much people valued cookies in two identical glass jars. One jar contained ten cookies and the other jar contained only two cookies. Which jar do you think was more desirable?
Although the cookies and jars were identical, the participants valued the cookies in the nearly empty jar more. Scarcity somehow influenced their perception of value.
There are many theories to explain why this happens. One suggests that scarcity may signal something about the product. If there is less of something, it could mean that other people know something that you don’t. Which, of course, is a total humbug.
Fiddler on the subway
Another example of the “principle of unavailability” could be a concert by a world-class violinist. Joshua Bell decided to play a free, impromptu concert on the subway in Washington, DC. Bell regularly sells out venues such as the Kennedy Center and Carnegie Hall for hundreds of dollars per ticket. Unfortunately, he was ignored in the DC metro area. Almost no one knew they were passing one of the most talented musicians in the world.
When Bell played a concert for free, few stopped to listen. But when he’s scheduled to play large concert halls, tickets for hundreds of dollars sell out in a flash.
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