Two identical cookie jars containing the same type of cookies are before you.  The only difference between them is that one jar holds ten cookies and the other jar holds two cookies.  Which cookies do you find more attractive and value more?

This experiment, conducted by Worchel, Lee, and Adewole in 1975, found that the jar with two cookies received ratings twice as high than the jar with ten cookies—even though the cookies were identical.  These results show that scarcity affects people’s perception of attractiveness and value—extending Commodity Theory founded in 1968 (seven years prior to the experiment).  Commodity Theory states that “scarcity enhances the value (or desirability) of anything that can be possessed, is useful to its possessor, and is transferable from one person to another.”

Marketers frequently use Commodity Theory to enhance the perceived value of their products to their customers.  For example, companies will use phrases such as “supplies are dwindling fast,” “limited release,” “limit of one per customer,” “only while supplies last,” and “this is the last one” in their advertisements.  These phrases make a purchase seem more like a rare opportunity, and, therefore, subconsciously enhance the value of the product for the customer and increase the likelihood of a purchase.  Marketers do have to be particularly careful when using Commodity Theory though in order for it to be effective.  If an advertisement comes across as if there are only a few products/services total, people will be skeptical.  This is versus using scarcity/Commodity Theory to come across that it is due to popular demand of a product/service that there is only one left.

The lesson here: Be careful when looking at advertising that mentions the amount of a product sold/left. 🙂