Marketers Behaving Badly: Why Your “Sold Out” Sign Can Be Catastrophic

“If you want your copy, and your offer, and your delicious seminars to capture people’s emotions, well, you’ve captured peoples’ emotions.

What you capture becomes your responsibility.

Handle that responsibility wisely and you will be loved.

Handle that responsibility poorly, or selfishly, or greedily?

I think we all know how that ends.”

So I almost signed up for a seminar today.

It’s a seminar created by someone loosely connected to my industry, someone I’ve had my eye on for quite a while. They’re a bit of a rising star in the coach-y, lifestyle business, “change agent” arena.

I saw it as a big, beautiful banner on her home page.

It was pretty enticing.

I click. I read. I SALIVATE.

It looks amazing.

I check the price, bracing for the worst.

It’s ridiculously reasonable.

I. Am. THERE.

Except I’m not. See me right now? See how I’m not there? This is me, not there.

I’m scanning through the sales page, ready to find the dates and get started.

There was a big line of header text, saying that additional dates had been opened up. Awesome.

Unfortunately, the top one was sold out.

That’s cool. I’m pretty flexible.

The next one was sold out, too.

That’s cool. Maybe the next one’s somewhere fabulous.

Nope.

Then there’s a list of five more dates, all sold out.

Every single date was sold out.

And I couldn’t help but wonder…

Why did you let me read a full page of sales copy for a product that is not actually for sale?

I completely understand when a link to an old promotion is accidentally still live. God knows I’ve got enough of them around here.

I completely understand when a banner stays up and you thought you took it down. Mistakes happen. It’s cool.

But giving me a whole page of sales copy and then telling me at the end that it’s sold out? (But I MIGHT be able to get in if somebody cancels?)

That’s not a mistake. That’s concerted. That’s deliberate.

Aside: It also just might be a lie. What might a person do if they didn’t sell out, not even kinda, but still wanted to look like a big shot cool kid?

Well, they could say it sold out, and then make an imaginary wait list, and then contact each person who gets on it to say that a spot miraculously opened up.

Voila! Create the impression of being a big shot cool kid who sells out all her events AND get a list of red hot prospects AND secure the opportunity to guilt or scare them into attending by emailing them personally. That’s a triple win, right there.

But let’s say that in this instance it’s not remotely sneaky or manipulative.

Let’s say that our purveyor of fine seminars genuinely sold out and genuinely wants to give me a shot at the waitlist in case someone genuinely cancels.

What would a person so hip and cool and popular that their seminars always sell out months in advance do in this situation?

Let’s consider this together.

Well, that person would probably be pretty confident, wouldn’t you think?

They probably wouldn’t be that invested in any one person thinking their seminar was the bees’ knees, what with their seminars being sold out and all.

They probably wouldn’t feel the need to make a big fuss about an already sold out workshop at all, would they?

Ahh.

So they might put something at the very TOP of the page saying…

“Hey, this is sold out, but waitlist spots are still available if you want.”

That sounds reasonable, doesn’t it?

Because putting it at the end, well, that would be kind of mean, wouldn’t it?

Here’s why bragging about selling out can be catastrophic.

Deliberately allowing somebody to get excited about something they can’t have is toying with people’s emotions.

It’s wrong.

Deliberately allowing somebody to think they can’t have something exciting, just so you can pull a last minute “PSYCH!” and sell it to them anyway is toying with people’s emotions.

It’s wrong.

Telling yourself it’s not wrong because, hey, if they’re that excited they’ll get on your mailing list and buy next year, well, I’m not even going to dignify that with a response.

But those are my opinions as a marketing trainer, and they’re not relevant in this context.

What’s relevant is the experience of the consumer.

When you inform people that they may be about to miss something, that is motivating. I just signed up for a marathon I’d been procrastinating on because I heard it was almost sold out. Finding out it was almost sold out was a catalyst for action. I was motivated to get off my ass and make a decision.

When you inform people that they have already missed it, that is depressing. Hey, look at the marathon you can’t run! This benefits no-one but the seller, or so the seller thinks.

They think it’s a great opportunity to make someone REALLY, REALLY WANT it later. Then they’ll definitely get on the list, right?

Does the consumer get on the list?

Sometimes.

Usually they don’t.

Usually they just leave your page with a bad taste in their mouth and never forget it.

If you want to be big and famous and powerful, you have to take responsibility for that.

If you want to be a big shot cool kid with events that always sell out, great. That’s a pretty cool goal to have.

If you want to write sales copy that makes people salivate, fantastic. Writing gorgeous copy can get your gift to the world actually out in the world.

If you want a big ol’ mess of screaming fans, awesome. You’re not going to get an argument from me.

But with great power comes great responsibility.

The bigger you get – or the bigger you act, if we’re being honest – the higher the standards and expectations will be.

You have to take the whole package.

And if you want your copy, and your offer, and your delicious seminars to capture people’s emotions, well, you’ve captured peoples’ emotions.

What you capture becomes your responsibility.

Handle that responsibility wisely and you will be loved.

Handle that responsibility poorly, or selfishly, or greedily?

I think we all know how that ends.

About the author: Naomi Dunford started IttyBiz in 2006. In her free time, she likes to… ha! Free time. You’re adorable. Learn more about her here and catch up with her on Twitter or Facebook.