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Scarcity in Branding

How Scarcity Works in Branding

It’s not a new concept, but it seems that many people have forgotten the power of scarcity in building a strong brand. Those people are NOT Russian River Brewing Company… Pliny the Younger comes out this February and people can not wait to stand in line to get their fair share.

I have a different perspective on the phenomenon that most in that I’ve a. grown up in Santa Rosa where Russian River Brewing calls home and b. become more of a wine than beer drinker over the years. But I am always blown away by the buzz that the release of Pliny the Younger causes from a branding perspective.  

What is scarcity in this context?

In this context, the concept of scarcity is used to brilliant effect. It’s available once a year for two weeks. It’s only available on draft at the Russian River Brewing pub (with the exception bottles being available this year to-go). It’s sometimes distributed without notice to some accounts. As our Marketing and Social Media strategist, Beau said when talking about Pliny the Younger, “It’s the ultimate FOMO experience.”

The Cookie Jar Example

My favorite example of scarcity and the psychology behind it has always been the cookie jar experiment from 1975. The short version is,  researchers asked participants to rate two jars that contained ten of the same cookie. Then eight cookies were removed from one of the jars to inject some scarcity into the situation. And you guessed it, the overwhelming majority rated the jar with just 2 cookies far higher than the jar with the original 10.

When you think about it, it’s just human nature. You want what everyone else wants whether it’s an indication that it’s a better product because it’s popular, or because you just want to not miss out on what everyone else obviously enjoys immensely, scarcity becomes an indication of quality.

How The Heck Do I Make it Work for Me?

Good question. And as you can imagine, the answer is not as cut and dry as one would hope. There is one very straight forward component to all of the brands that use the power of scarcity to build their cult following: Quality. 

We all know that place that folks are willing to stand in a line around the corner to get into. Whether it’s a limited release of a beer every year, or a limited amount of brisket made every day, the limited part only works if people describe it to their friends as “the best!” So trying to develop a scarcity strategy for a brand really needs to hinge on quality. 

If the quality is covered, then the scarcity play could work…but keep in mind, you’re playing the long game. While there are flash-in-the-pan stories of success, they rarely last. The Pliny the Younger story is a long one. And it includes a World’s Best Beer award from Beer Advocate in 2012 along with a long run of top 10 finishes. There’s your quality and your longevity…

Focus on the Quality

Ultimately something like the phenomenon of Pliny the Younger can’t be manufactured. I know our approach at TIV Branding is to focus on the irreplaceable quality we provide because we’ve watched how, if we keep our focus on the work, the clients can’t get enough. The same goes for brands that offer more than services. The products have to be high quality and irreplaceable.

Brandt Hoekenga is the Founder and Creative Director for TIV Branding


TIV Branding is a boutique branding firm in Sonoma County, California. We specialize in building brands by using traditional, social and digital channels in unison. If you would like to discuss a project or find out more about how we do what we do, please email us at info@TIVbranding.com.