Scarcity In Action

Knob Creek adIn a reply to my post, The Scarcity Effect, Neuromarketing reader Keith Monaghan pointed out how one bourbon marketing effort is employing scarcity to build its brand.

Knob Creek (a fine whiskey indeed, by the way) is promoting the fact that they might run out of their signature bourbon this fall. One might think this to be a crazy strategy – if supply is indeed short, why not cut back on advertising, save a few bucks, and still sell 100% of your inventory?

The answer is branding. Should Knob Creek be known simply as a premium bourbon, or the bourbon that was so good it became unavailable? Should the standards used in the creation of Knob Creek be high, or so high that its makers wouldn’t compromise their manufacturing and aging process to make more available?

In Keith’s own post on the Knob Creek strategy, he notes:

This is brilliant old-school marketing and I love it more than a man should love any ad. Here’s why:

■ It reinforces Knob Creek’s old world, hand-crafted image: You can’t rush excellence.
■ It proves they are popular. “Hey, we ran out!”.
■ It spins “Thanks for nothing” into a positive statement.
■ Most importantly, it combines two powerful marketing strategies in an elegant way: Scarcity and Social Proof.

Keith is right on the money with this. Before this ad, Knob Creek was an excellent whiskey. So was Gentleman Jack. So was Elijah Craig. But none of those other guys had the combination of demand (social proof) and persnickety aging standards (high quality)to actually run out of product.

This is brilliant stuff. Unfortunately, the Knob Creek marketing folks don’t seem to be as tuned in to social media as they could be. Allthough you can view a webcast about the “Knob Creek Drought” here, I couldn’t locate an embeddable version on their site or elsewhere. Keith has some additional suggestions as to how Knob Creek could maximize the socal media impact:

■ YouTube videos featuring customer talking about their frustration with The Wait.
■ A social media campaign that counts down the days until the next batch is available.
■ A contest in which a lucky winner gets the first new bottle a few days ahead of the official re-release.

The blogosphere has been full of chatter about the Knob Creek drought. The JWT Anxiety Index blog lauds the brand for putting a silver lining on a stormy cloud. David Kiley of Business Week’s Brand New Day found the Knob Creek campaign contrived at first, but ended up lifting his glass to the brand strategists at Beam. Carole Gunst of the Marketing Today blog likes the campaign, and notes the extent to which bloggers have reported on the Knob Creek shortage. Dave Knox admits to having a soft spot for great liquor ads, but finds the Knob Creek approach admirable and a role model for all brand managers.

Long live scarcity!


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— who has written 985 posts on Neuromarketing.

Roger Dooley writes and speaks about marketing, and in particular the use of neuroscience and behavioral research to make advertising, marketing, and products better. He is the primary author at Neuromarketing, and founder of Dooley Direct LLC, a marketing consultancy. Follow him on Twitter.

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1 response to "Scarcity In Action" — Your Turn


Naomi Niles 9. September 2009 at 4:34 pm

I love this. It conveys so many different things with one simple concept. Very clever.


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