< Back

How to boost sales with real time scarcity

How to enhance sales with real-time scarcity techniques

Table of Contents

How often do you find yourself using “scarcity” in your ads? Is it a once-a-week strategy, only when you’re running a sale, or do you use it daily?

If I were to guess, many of us sprinkle a bit of scarcity into our paid strategies quite frequently, often in the form of a “limited-time offer” (an offer that lasts as long as it’s performing well).

We need to drive action from our audience somehow, right?

It’s true, people tend to buy when they feel a sense of urgency, especially if there’s a time or quantity limit. We use scarcity in our advertising because it works.

But I recently listened to a podcast with Joe Rogan and Michael Easter, and they explained how real-time scarcity works on a neurological level. What they said was quite eye-opening…

Real Scarcity is Terrifying

How do we know when something is scarce?

As marketers, we often create “faux scarcity,” where we sell the notion that something is scarce when it’s not.

Sure, displaying a “low stock” banner on products might reflect a genuine scarcity situation, but more often than not, it’s just a motivational tool.

Simply adding a countdown timer to your website doesn’t necessarily drive people to make purchases. It’s the feeling that the timer creates that does all the work.

Real scarcity lies within the mind.

Resource gathering is a deeply ingrained subconscious program. Encountering scarce resources alerts our subconscious that resources are dwindling rapidly, and we need to hurry up and grab what we can before it’s gone.

It’s a built-in safety mechanism.

But invoking scarcity in the mind isn’t just about slapping artificial limits on stuff; it’s much more interesting than that.

A well-timed scarcity message keeps us glued to the screen, waiting to see if more resources will become available, like a slot machine.

According to Rogan and Easter, slot machines are one of the few places where you can experience true scarcity, because they use three key elements to evoke this “scarce” feeling: opportunity, unpredictable rewards, and quick repeatability.

(Gamblers experience scarcity in real-time as they feed quarters into slot machines, with some machines averaging 16 games per minute.)

Here’s how these three elements work together to drive behaviour:


Picture this: you stumble upon a mystery offer for your favourite cookie brand. Your brain thinks this never happens (or so it seems), and that feeling of excitement—the chance to grab something special before it’s gone—creates a “now or never” sense that gets your heart racing and your fingers clicking. It’s even better if the ad hides the offer, like “Which discount will you get? Click and see!”

Unpredictable Rewards

Next comes the mystery offer on the other side of the ad. If the brand did its job right, the offers won’t be static; they’ll rotate. You never know which offer you’ll get.

Finding a 3-for-1 the first time, a BOGO (buy on , get one) sale the next, and a flash sale the third time is highly dopamine-inducing for the brain.

Quick Repeatability

Now, imagine this scenario: on the landing page, there’s a “refresh” button that allows you to get a new offer (that expires within 45 seconds) with just the click of a button. You’re refreshing the page over and over.

This fast-paced, easily repeatable behaviour means you never have a chance to get bored, so you keep clicking and adding to cart, just in case the offer goes away.

Now you’re hooked.

And here’s the scary part: this “gambler” behaviour isn’t just confined to slot machines and ads…

How to Use Real-Time Scarcity in Branding

A great example of using scarcity effectively is Tinder.

The limited matches per day, time-limited chats, and exclusive features for premium subscribers tap into that “limited resource” mindset, gamifying the search for a partner:

Limited matches = opportunity. Users know they’ll have a finite number of potential connections, making each match feel more valuable. It’s like being at a speed-dating event where you have only a few minutes to make a connection before moving on.

Time-limited chats = unpredictable rewards. Knowing there’s a short window to chat with someone creates a sense of urgency to make the most of the limited time, hoping to make a connection.

Swipe right = quick repeatability. The odds might seem negative (only 0.5% of men find a potential match out of 20 billion matches per day), but the fun of swiping through potential partners outweighs the uncertainty.

This cycle continues, making Tinder the king of generating real scarcity.

Generating Real Scarcity in Your Ads

To use real-time scarcity effectively in your ads, follow these steps:

Create an Opportunity

This is pretty straightforward. The first step is to create an opportunity for your customers to get what they deeply desire. Create an ad that shows them what they could have, do, or be, depending on your product or service.

Make the Rewards Unpredictable

Instead of offering a simple 1:1 exchange (you give us money, we give you what you want), gamify it. Send them to a landing page where they can choose from three different offers or add a button that refreshes to show a new offer, which might be better than the old one. To make it even more addictive, stagger the rewards—offer nothing, 50% off, 2-for-1, then nothing, etc.

Keep Them Engaged with Repeatable Actions

Once they’ve added the reward (your product) to their cart, ask if they’d like access to hidden rewards just for customers who added to cart. Keep the process going…


Brands that use real scarcity by providing opportunity, unpredictable rewards, and repeatable actions are playing at a much higher level than brands that create “faux scarcity.” These brands grab attention and keep it.

Real-time scarcity works because it taps into our deeply ingrained survival mechanisms, creating a sense of urgency and value that drives action. By understanding and implementing these principles, you can significantly boost your sales and keep your audience engaged.