Ostensible demarketing happens when professionals attempt to restrict or prevent the way a product, service or brand is offered: whether by accident or design, the threat of withdrawal paradoxically increases its desirability.
This phenomenon was identified by nearly 50 years ago by Jack Brehm who called it “psychological reactance”. Brehm (1966) argued that when the freedom to act in a particular way was taken away, or when it was suggested that this freedom was about to be withdrawn, consumers would invariably persuade themselves that the item in question was better than they had previously thought.
Since Brehm's classic study was published the theory has been tested on a range of products (for example Mazis et al 1973), and has provided plausible explanations for numerous marketing phenomena where consumers appear not to have acted in the manner predicted by economists.
|The claim about theatre owners is often attributed to |
Samuel Johnson, but I haven't been able to find the reference.
Picture from Wikimedia
Ostensible demarketing seems to have been coined by Kotler and Levy in a Harvard Business Review article from 1971. Their definition talks of creating the appearance of demarketing as a way of boosting demand. This definition is problematic: although there are lots of examples of marketing people running successful campaigns where products have been withdrawn or advertising banned, it is hard to find marketers owning up to this sort of deception. Hardly surprising, really: who is honest enough to admit to dishonesty?
- Brehm, J.W. (1966), A theory of psychological reactance, New York: Academic Press
- Kotler, Philip and Sidney Levy (1971), “Demarketing, yes, demarketing”, Harvard Business Review, November-December, pp. 74-80
- Mazis, Michael B., Robert B. Settle and Dennis C. Leslie (1973), “Elimination of phosphate detergents and psychological reactance”, Journal of Marketing Research, 10, pp.390-395