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How Failing to Keep Up With Demand Can Be a Good Thing

Back in 2011 Knob Creek ran an ad campaign that announced something shocking: they may actually run out of bourbon.

The elegantly zen-like piece (above) featured a precious last drop of bourbon, the tag line "Thanks for nothing", and some clever copy:

"For the next few months Knob Creek Bourbon is in a unique situation -- our product is so popular that we cannot keep up with customer demand. As a result, our supply will be running low over the next few months, and, in some cases, we may experience temporary stock depletion. But, instead of compromising quality to meet demand, we have chosen to let the supply run low. In deference to Booker Noe and his vision for Knob Creek, we will age all our bourbon the full 9 years. The next batch will be ready in November of this year... Again, with all the success we've had, we've still come up empty. Thanks for helping make it happen."

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.

Scarcity and social what, marketing guy?

I know, it sounds like gobbledygook, but both approaches are real and based on serious research and Knob Creek does a beautiful job of combining them. How so? Read on.

Scarcity

A tried and true way to make a profit is to deal in something scarce. People want what others can't have. Crowds and lines generate curiosity. Word-of-mouth about great, but hard to attain, products creates demand (see Social Proof below).

Most importantly, Scarcity forces your true fans, those customers who will do most anything to buy your product, who obsess over it, to talk. They talk about the waiting and the searching and the longing and how it's driving them crazy and they just can't wait to get their hands on it already!

And people talked about Knob Creek. In fact, the ad generated so much interest that they hosted a webcast to explain how the shortage came to be and why their 9-year aging process makes Knob Creek bourbon so special, extending interest in the campaign. Nice.

As effective a strategy as Scarcity is, there's another, even more interesting, aspect to it: Social Proof.

Social Proof

Simply put, Social Proof is the tendency to look to others for ques on how to behave--monkey see, monkey do, if you will. If Knob Creek is sold out we assume it must be great and if everybody likes it they must know something we don't.

It's why companies use celebrities to endorse their products, Amazon features customer reviews and TV shows use canned laughter.

Right or wrong, we often assume others must be better informed and that they are acting on experience or privileged information. Often it's just a mob mentality, group think, following the herd.

And it's why Knob Creek's was happy to announce they'd sold out: If it sold out it must be good. It's that simple.

Could It Have Been Even Better?

Knob Creek's "Thanks For Nothing" ad was word-of-mouth marketing at its best. They highlighted their Scarcity problem without any hype and subtly used Social Proof to show that many people think their bourbon is great. And damn if I don't want to try it because of that.

But how could they have extended this great campaign even further? A few ideas:

  • YouTube videos featuring customers talking about their frustration with The Wait.

  • A social media campaign that counted down the days until the next batch was available.

  • A contest in which a lucky winner received the first new bottle a few days ahead of the official release.

What do you think? How could Knob Creek have taken "Thanks for nothing" even further? Should they have? How do you use Scarcity and Social Proof?

Keith Monaghan