the scarcity of snapchat’s spectacles and why it’s a smart marketing strategy

When the Wu-Tang Clan released their new album in 2015, ‘Once Upon A Time in Shaolin,’ it was met with an immense amount of hype. The year prior, a double CD of the album was stored in a vault at a hotel in Morocco, you know, as one does with a new album. But this wasn’t any album drop – they only released one copy. ONE. And that single double-disc sat inside of a vault in northern Africa until a rich kid bought it at an auction for $2 Million. It was unattainable to the nth degree. It was as much an innovative music launch strategy as it was a wild PR and marketing stunt. And it got people to notice, with social chatter skyrocketing for several months after the album’s initial announcement.

Of course, the Wu-Tang example is extreme. Six years of work and creativity, in secret, only to allow one wealthy human to hear your production – it seems crazy. But with marketing, crazy can sometimes work. And then when you think about it, it all doesn’t seem that crazy. Even though there were legal regulations put on the leaking of the album once purchased, in this day and age, do you think they all really thought the masses wouldn’t hear at least some of the music in the end?

People create hype, not brands. Until people start talking, hype doesn’t exist, regardless of what off-the-wall plan your brand comes up with.

When I look at what Snapchat is doing with their Spectacles launch, where they are dropping a bot vending machine at obscure locations around the country, with no prior notice (only a clock counting down to the mystery location) – it reminds me of the Wu-Tang Clan, philosophically. So far, including this morning, there have only been three of such bots and each only sell a few hundred pairs (for $130). They’ve appeared in Venice Beach in LA last week, Big Sur farther north in California on Sunday, and now outside of…Tulsa.

Nothing more than an obscure countdown on their website was provided as a heads up on timing, and the location was a complete shot in the dark. The next one is yet to begin. But it’s the extreme scarcity and unattainable nature of the camera sunglasses themselves that’s rocking the boat and keeping consumers and fans on edge. Where’s the next spot? When will it be? Can I get there? Or can I have a friend get there? We have to act fast!

These are all very common and frequent thoughts amongst people talking about Spectacles. Some of these fans and Snapchat users are literally driving several hours at the drop of a hat once the location became known, if it was even remotely near them, even with the very real risk they’d be sold out when they arrive. Talk about engagement with a product and brand – people are changing their day’s schedule, flipping it on its head to act on a sale of a product, knowing they might not even get them. Wow.

For those of us not close to a bot location, or not willing to kick off a random road trip, we’re following along, almost like a sporting event. People on-scene are posting pictures and sharing content …and what’s interesting- much of that content is on social platforms not called Snapchat, as that’s not what this is even about. It’s an awareness play, a PR stunt, a brand and product launch, and a tactic that cuts right to the core of consumer behavior, leveraging scarcity and a sense of urgency in its most basic form.

Not to mention, it’s a perfect storm of said tactics executed flawlessly with a tech innovation before unseen. That …kind of helps.

The limitations on availability create situations like a pair of Spectacles selling on eBay for $1,500, which I saw yesterday. If you think about it, other than a handful of influencers and writers getting pairs early, there are only likely a few hundred or maybe just over a thousand out there in the world at this point. So beyond the scarce launch and selling tactics, there’s now a secondary market centered on personal profit. I wish we knew how many of the flockers were there because they love and use Snapchat and wanted to add this to their tech/camera repertoire, and how many showed up simply to get a shiny object that could translate into a nice price tag later.  Either way, for both groups, the ploy still worked. You came. You stood in line. You purchased. You probably shared photos of the experience and bragged to your friends. You’re adding water on the hype’s seeds.

This is exactly. what. they. want.

As more locations arrive, the word-of-mouth, social chatter, PR and news coverage, and hype will only continue to grow. No one (in the public) knows yet what the end game will be, or if Spectacles will eventually be available to everyone, or if they will ultimately fade away into the night leaving only a few thousand pairs behind for folks to fight over. And you know what, at this point that doesn’t matter. Its already working. You can look at this as one enormous test and learn. If the sunglasses are shitty or have issues and don’t work well, or are rejected by the masses when it’s all said and done – no worries. The limited and gradual launch creates an environment where pulling the plug would be easy and without mass failure and risk.

It’s a brilliant strategy.

And now I want a pair.