Revisiting Cialdini’s Six Principles of Persuasion: Scarcity

In a recent post, I introduced Robert Cialdini, author of Influence: The Psychology of Persuasionwho created something akin to a “Unified Field Theory of Persuasion” by categorizing almost every persuasion approach into one of six primary principles: reciprocity, scarcity, consistency, liking, authority and social proof.

Last time, I covered reciprocity. In this post, I’ll focus on the second of those principles: scarcity.


Call it the rule of the rare, the fact of the few or the coefficient of the insufficient. People want more of what they perceive to be a dwindling supply.

Countless examples exist of how individuals have responded to a decreasing supply of something. One of my favorite reactions is the panic caused when Hostess Brands Inc., the 82-year-old maker of Twinkies and other snacks, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 2012. Shoppers began stockpiling Twinkies, fearing they’d find no alternative for their sugar fixes. News outlets reported that at least one person tried to capitalize on the scare by offering a single Twinkie on eBay for $8,000!

To truly leverage the principle of scarcity, the scarcity must truly be real. There really needs to be “Only three days left!” or “Limited inventory!” Anything else, and lack of ethics comes into play. And if you think people are worried about what they might be missing, they’re even more concerned about losing what they already have. That’s why “loss language” (forfeit, surrender, forgo) is always preferable to “gain language” (acquire, obtain, secure) when playing the persuasion game.

Try incorporating the principle of scarcity into your persuasion efforts this week.

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