How to Spot a Scarcity Marketing Scam

Scarcity marketing is a strategy used by sellers to create a sense of urgency in the prospect to buy a product immediately.

This is most often accomplished by stating that the product is available for a limited time or in limited quantities, e.g. “Offer ends March 31st” or “Only 36 copies left”.

The latter tactic works especially well when the prospective buyer knows that there were only a couple hundred units originally and now there are only 36 available.

For example, take a look at the screenshot below which shows the order page for a Clickbank product that I looked at this morning.

“WOW!, that is selling like hotcakes – I’d better buy it now!” you might think.

That’s almost what I did until I stopped and thought harder for a moment.

The text under Item Description, “… WARNING: ONLY 36 COPIES LEFT…” is the description that the vendor supplies to Clickbank when they post the product in the Marketplace.

Smell a rat?

Wait, it gets stinkier still.

A seller might want to limit sales if they have a training program to which they attend to students personally (like I do at Rosalind Gardner’s Academy) and therefore more sales means more work.

But no Clickbank vendor in their right mind would limit sales of an ebook to 215 copies. It just doesn’t make sense. Maybe if they were doing a deeply discounted offer – but not for the full price of $47.

Nor would that Clickbank vendor get hundreds of affiliates to promote the product. Seriously, would YOU bother to promote a product where there were only 215 copies available and you knew that all the so-called ‘Top Guns’ were promoting it as well?

I hope not!

Don’t get me wrong.

I’m not saying that scarcity marketing is not an ethical strategy – it IS, when used in an honest and upright manner.

But I sure as heck wouldn’t even consider buying a product from someone who so blatantly lies to (tries to scam) their prospects.

Anyway, check out the sales page (it’s great copy although I wish he’d stop yelling at some point) and then click through to the order page and see if there aren’t still just 36 copies left. LOL

By the way, if you really want to buy the product – that is my affiliate link – feel free to use it. :-)

As always, stop and think before you click “Order”.

Comments

  1. says

    This is a great post Ros. I too got hip to the scarcity tactic once I got in the game of affiliate marketing. By the way, I love the way you incorporated your affiliate link:) I knew it was an affiliate link before you metioned it, and I was waiting for you to say so. So glad you were honest about it:) Keep up the amazing work you do.

    • Michelle says

      Hi Ros,
      Great post, but I’m a little confused.. why do you represent this guy (through affiliation), given all the obvious flaws? I guess I don’t understand why you wouldn’t just dump him, and quick.. Yes, the yelling is horrible.. I have deleted ALL newsletters which come in with this horrible sense of urgency, failure, what I would call negative.. I’m okay with emails from people and sites I already know and trust, that let me know when there’s a deadline approaching..
      Thanks for all your fantastic work, and all the best.

  2. says

    I really hated the word “you’ve failed” as the first words spoken. Put me off immediately so I never actually got as far as the order page (but I’m sure there are still “only” 36 copies available!)

    Interesting but not my style.

    • says

      Hi Dawn,

      Me too! What an awful ‘greeting’ if you want to call it that. Of course, he goes on with the standard ‘it’s not your fault’ line pretty soon after. I’ve personally always wondered on whom they think I should blame the failure it’s not my fault that I haven’t accomplished something. Hmmmm.
      Cheers,
      Ros

    • says

      Hi Eric,

      I don’t have exact numbers but understand that 10% of all affiliates make 90% of all sales.

      That leaves 90% – so we can safely guess that his numbers are b.s. Too, there are a great number of so-called affiliates who never do anything and I don’t think we can actually factor them into the equation – which is what I suspect he might have done – IF he did any ‘equating’ at all. :-)

      Cheers,
      Ros

    • says

      Hmm… That reminds me of the stat that 10% of the population owns 80% of the wealth. Which makes me wonder what the average income would be for the population of “active” affiliates. Would it look sort of like members of the Screen Actors Guild, where the average annual income is under $5,000 and you have a few at the top who make millions?
      Anyway, thanks for the post and your reply here. I know you’d like to see more of us affiliates positioned to the right on the bell curve… :-)

  3. says

    It seems to be the flavor of the month for these type of ClickBank launches. On their JV page their offering over $10,000 in prizes to their JV’s. If they were really only selling 215 copies that about 10K in sales. Even with upsells that’s not a good pricing model :-) .. so yep it’s fake scarcity.

    Not only is it unethical it’s illegal in the US. The FTC would have a field day with these guys but ClickBank must be under their radar.

  4. Steve says

    HAHA that product makes me laugh. Why don’t they call it ” Sucker Hijack ” instead. You’re a sucker if you buy that!

    • says

      Hi Steve,

      As an ex aviation type (air traffic controller) I HATE the word hijack. And ‘commission hijacking’ is an actual term used in this industry to mean stealing of commissions through various methods such as swapping out a link or scumware.

      The whole title therefore is just downright wrong and bad.

      Cheers,
      Ros

  5. says

    Hi Ros,

    On the “buying” side of things, I’m glad I don’t pay attention to that. I mean, if I want the product, I want the product period, but wouldn’t buy it because I think it’s running out and time is of the essence. Lots of people see this for what it is. No, it sure doesn’t make sense generally.

    Now to be an affiliate, it made me think. There could be some people who blindly copy the code to advertise it without really reading it. From that perspective, certainly we need to be careful of that. Not only wouldn’t the affiliate want to get involved with something that’s running out, but have to think of the customers as well….they would just feel lied to.

    Thanks again for the reminder about this. And I didn’t know the term was “scarcity marketing.” Learn something new everyday here.

    • says

      Really good point, Jane. We definitely want to take a good hard look at the sales page before we decide to promo anything. If it seems ‘fishy’, then it probably stinks.

      Ros

  6. says

    These “come ons” are so common I didn’t figure anyone would pay any attention to them anymore! By the way, I’ll pass on your offer to buy the scammy product. :)

  7. Steve Bagley says

    Unknowingly, my email was distributed to this particular owner’s list for the product – I recognized the packaging – I review sales letters for new ideas, however, this one was over the top – I was LOL – once again claiming they have the ultimate secret – geeze, I guess it will never end.

    • says

      Hi Steve,

      It’s amazing how many of those lists you ‘unknowingly’ seem to get on. There’s one that I’ve been trying to unsubscribe from for years but I think he recycles his unsubscribes. Ugh.

      Ros

  8. Kit says

    LOL we were at Underground last week talking about this. Who in their right mind limits “instant downloads?” Noone – scam! :0)

    I’m going to start saying this:

    Unlimited Time – Unlimited Copies – I wanna make a boatload of cash!

    Of course – my other favorite scarcity scam tactics:

    The auto-programmed countdown.. Sure! Let me refresh..

    • says

      I soo want to go to another Underground – they’re my favorite conferences!

      I was surprised when you posted that picture, I guess it’s on the order page to say “don’t you dare back out or you’ll be sorry!” Odd, haven’t seen that one before!

  9. Kit says

    By the way – I do think it deserves some clarification that while the scarcity statement is false – does not make the product a bad product. I have bought plenty of amazing quality products out there with these false statements.

    • says

      Good and valid point, Kit. We might not like the style of marketing but it doesn’t mean to say that the product is not good.

    • says

      On base, I agree with you Kit.

      Although back to the point that a marketer will use such scammy tactics to get his / her product sold – chances are pretty good that the product itself will not deliver on its promise.

  10. Greg Vinson says

    I am so sick of these fake scarcity scams. The most common rationalization seems to be the “this is just too powerful to let many people in on”, often accompanied by some attempt to make you feel you were one of the chosen few to receive the offer because of something special about you; usually coming from someone you’ve never done business with, but you’re so special they are going to give you the keys to the “push the magic button for six figures your first month” software-right.

    If I had a system for push button riches, I hardly think I’d be selling it for $37-47 to “just 200-something” “special” strangers. Instead of wasting time launching it on clickbank, I’d be pushing the button again, to make multiples of the few thousand bucks they’d be making from sales if the scarcity claim was true.

    Also, whenever I see garish graphics or photos of the “babes at the beach”, Lambo at the beach, cocktails and a laptop under a palm tree, or any other cliched “internet lifestyle” symbols at the top of the page, I know it’s a BS offer.

    • says

      Hi Greg,

      You’re right about the ‘babes on the beach’ photos — not only is it too typical for the industry, it’s a good way to maybe alienate a portion of the potential buyers. Quite frankly, I’d prefer to see buff surfer dudes. LOL

      And these guys totally overdid it with the lifestyle photos.

      Cheers,
      Ros

  11. says

    Yes! Good work highlighting this nonsense. One particularly icky product is a flash plugin that has a fake “countdown clock” which the sleazy IMers claim will “turn your customers into cash waving lunatics!” It’s name? The “Money Extractor”. Gross.

    • says

      Hi Seth,

      That IS gross. No flippin’ respect at all. Stuff like that drives me bananas… It should offend anyone who by nature wants the best for others.

      Cheers,
      Ros

  12. says

    Ros:

    I could hardly get by the first few words and that English accent yelling at me!

    I have been struggling to learn the affiliate marketing business for a while now, and I finally got tired of all the marketing and launches, so I have been unsubscribing from almost every list I am on.

    As Seth Godin says “ship” — if you don’t ship you will never make a dime!

    So I am concentrating on that and making slow headway, but at least I am making some headway.

    Keep up the good work!

    John

    • says

      Sorry about that – I didn’t mean to be off topic, just letting off a little steam I guess.

      Used to fly DC-3s years ago – great airplane.

      Truth is I feel that the scarcity thing is used a lot to make us want to buy, but why someone would be selling something on Clickbank and limit the number of sales is nuts. It makes me wonder if its worth anything if it can’t be sold on its merits and just scarcity scares.

      John

    • says

      No no! I was being off-topic in my response to you, John. DAK’s are one of my favorite airplanes too.

      Your response was brilliant. I wish I had your command of the language. :-)

  13. says

    FWIW, at this moment it “still” says 36 remaining copies, lol… (Timestamp: it’s April Fool’s Day @ about 5:30pm PDT.)

  14. says

    Those kinds of sales tactics always annoy me. I prefer to take a little extra time whenever I’m thinking about buying something and come back to it later. Lets me think about whether I really want the product or if it was just something in the sales letter. A little research often turns up a lot of quality issues too.

  15. Dacia says

    I think the way this product was presented overall is distasteful. I often wonder why these people think that they will be taken seriously when they use these beautiful women posing near their laptops.Plus I don’t like to be screamed at or being talked down to in order for me to purchase their products. I am so happy that there are still Internet Marketers like you who are honest and you also give your readers valuable content. Keep up the good work, Rosalind.

  16. Neal says

    Seems like a mixed message Roz. You are either ethical or you’re not. To use the page as an example of a non-ethical scarcity marketing tactic, and then turnaround and say you are promoting said page as an interesting piece of stretched logic to say the least.

    Could it be that this post is a disguised attempt for you to make affiliate sales?

    • says

      Hi Neal,

      I didn’t promote the product – I linked to it so readers could check out the copy and see the ’36 copies left’ on the order page. I added ‘By the way, if you really want to buy the product – that is my affiliate link – feel free to use it. :-)’ Tongue in cheek, expecting that none of my very smart readers would actually purchase (and no one has). And if they did buy it despite my warnings, why shouldn’t I get the credit for the referral?

      Cheers,
      Ros

  17. says

    Hi Rosalind,

    I have seen a lot of disgusting sales pages and this guy’s page is at the top of the list. I wouldn’t buy anything from him. I have your Super Affiliate Handbook. It is the best books I have. It has all the information I need.

  18. says

    Hi Rosalind.

    Great post, I must admit I wouldn’t have realised that the text on the Clickbank order form was ‘fixed’ and did not count down. I just checked the sales page and it still reads as 36 left. Now there’s a surprise.

    Steve.

  19. says

    I feel scarcity marketing is a worn out and outdated marketing strategy. As for me, the moment I see it I always decide not to buy that particular product. I will say to myself “Too bad about that as I will not be able to beat the deadline given.

  20. Tracy DeCarlo says

    This guy was could be in a Saturday Night Live skit as the epotimy of “yuk”.

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