Your last Rolo, Marginal Utility and the Paradox of Value

Rolo – Who would you give your last one to?

It’s a lovely advert isn’t it?

I was pottering away over the weekend and was digging through a new Economics book by Dorling Kindersley which attempts to explain in simple methods the leading Economic theories across the ages. The book is super easy to understand and has gorgeous illustrations throughout.



Anyway, one article in particular sparked a discussion about Marginal Utility.

Marginal Utility is defined by the book as ‘The change in total utility or satisfaction, that results from the consumption of one more unit of a product or service.’

Now ordinarily, marginal utility with chocolates would be considered quite low. If you’ve already downed 90% of a packet of them, your desire to have one more is not high – you’re no longer hungry and your teeth are probably starting to ache from all the sugar! Yet, the makers of our Rolo advert know of the value of scarcity.

There’s only one Rolo left, they say. This must be important.

Rolos have become scarce.

Now, scarcity ties into a concept that economists would call the the Paradox of Value, or ‘Why are some things valued higher than others?’ Here’s an example. Air is everywhere and the most important component of our existence, yet if I tried to bottle it and sell it, there would be few takers and the price I would have to sell it for would be between free and the cost of the bottle. Gold on the other hand is extremely rare, yet virtually useless. It looks pretty but does **** all. However, it currently trades for about $1600 per oz. Why? Scarcity. There may never be another pot of gold found. We know that all the gold ever discovered in the world would fill just two Olympic sized swimming pools. It is rare and therefore desired.

And so, the makers of our Rolo ad introduced scarcity in the form of one last chocolate. Ordinarily we wouldn’t care about one more chocolate, but this chocolate is special because it may gain us the most treasured and scarce of all desires, LOVE.

Suddenly, our last chocolate has morphed from a sickly little lump into the most important object of value in the world that could gain us love. Knowing that you have something your potential love interest wants, while she has no other of these objects immediately available and no other would be suitors with these delicious little lumps of love buying equipment has given the Rolo value. Its Marginal Utility has gained exponentially. We’ve moved from a humble eating experience to a quest to find love. Genius.

Scarcity has thus created desire and given value. This concept is used frequently in marketing. Think about the most recent signs you may have seen. Have any included these sorts of words?

Limited edition

Only three slots left

Sale ends tomorrow.

All are examples of scarcity being used in marketing. Because scarcity works. Scarcity scares the bejesus out of us, because we might miss out on something that is clearly in demand and desired. It’s how we’ve survived on this planet so long. And it will continue to work for as long as we’re around.

So the next time you’re thinking about how to promote your service or product, try and introduce a little scarcity into the message to see if you can drive home how important it is that your customer get it today.