FOMO: What Are You Missing?

You pick up your phone and open Facebook or Instagram—that’s the daily drill for 67% of the 2.9 billion active Facebook users as of April 2022 anyway. While scrolling through your feed, you come across an ad for an ongoing sale at a footwear store. It’s 30% off all purchases and for a limited time only. At the end of the ad is a Call to Action such as “Shop Now” or “Don’t Miss Out.” Out of the blue, it occurs to you that you have always wanted a pair from this store, and like you, tons of people have seen this ad. Now, you want to take advantage of the discounted prices before time is up or they run out of stock. Subsequently, a sense of urgency propels you to clack away to their website and make a purchase. Done.

Replicate this process for hundreds or thousands of people and the potency of FOMO is better perceivable.

There exists a powerful urge that sweeps people into a moment of decision by creating the right amount of unprecedented urgency and a tinge of exclusivity. It is called the Fear of Missing Out – FOMO for short. Contextually, it manifests in the more familiar, often negative-connoting aliases like “peer pressure,” “the bandwagon mentality,” or “the urge to fit in.”

That feeling of anxiety, apprehension, or at least the hint of disappointment that one isn’t in the know of, or participating in a trending activity or experience, aptly defines FOMO. In the simplest terms, FOMO is that weird, all-consuming feeling you get when you are not part of something.

People speak about personal convictions all the time, but the fact remains that we are not independent of influence. This leaning is wired into our psychology as the most advanced species on Earth who can see, feel, and ultimately react. Individual susceptibility to the desire for validation, recognition, and approval by others sits at the core of FOMO’s existence.

As you are about to find out, FOMO is a powerful stimulant, both in everyday life and in the realms of corporate business. Stemming beyond the confines of human psychology, FOMO branches out to our focus, marketing, and emerges as a technique that is not inherently harmful if well executed.

This blog piece headlines FOMO and explores how your brand can use it to drive up conversions in a competitive market. Before that is a glance at the evolution of FOMO in relation to marketing.

FOMO: The Evolution

It is common to find FOMO associated with the social media age, but long before today, it existed as a nameless psychological weapon. Ancient merchants wielded it to their advantage, having cracked the code that the combined notions of exclusivity and scarceness drove up the value of any purchasable item, from fabric to jewelry and precious gems.

Posters and signposts aside, word of mouth about a scarce or limited edition item could penetrate the tiniest streets of the most remote of places and the highest-walled castles—evoking the non-affording poor to awe, and the capable rich to purchase. The latter, which were the main targets, would move to possess these rare items just to show off to the envy of their fellows.

This is proof that traditional means of marketing, had a considerable deal of persuasion power, and FOMO held its rightful, rather obscure place in it.

By the 1920s, televisions were invented and marketing found a new hub. Electronic media expanded the reach of a single message, and that possibly meant a more massive scale of FOMO frenzy. However, for the ensuing five decades, no marketing or advert success was traceable to FOMO because it hadn’t received its name. 

In the year 1996, Dan Herman, a Marketing Strategist first used the term FOMO in his academic research paper published in 2000 – and as a phenomenon, FOMO began a fresh perceptive existence.

Today, the contemporary internet is the largest communication hot zone the world has ever known, and the use of FOMO by brands, big and small, is steadily on the rise. These brands, like the merchants of the old days, have figured out that purchase choices are affected by multiple factors at play.

Fear of Missing out framework -three girls talking each other
Image Source: Commons

Inclusive or Exclusive? – Interesting Mechanics of FOMO

It is not sufficient for your brand to put out a message (or an advert) to prospective customers and keep fingers crossed for responses. The right psychological conditions have to be designed for maximum stimulation. These conditions connote limited or exclusive access to your brand’s featured product or service.

As an associate of FOMO, exclusivity typically begets desirability. Desirability drives the consumer to decide in favor of your product. Fascinatingly, inclusivity – considered the opposite of exclusivity – also connects to FOMO and adds a magnetic effect to marketing. How? It’s simple: no one wants to feel left out of what everyone else is doing. And if “everyone” can do (or be part of) X, then X is possibly not exclusive. However, if X can only be available for a period of time, it can be said to be exclusive to only people who beat the time crunch. Remarkably, FOMO absorbs the contrasting natures of inclusivity and exclusivity into itself while formidably using both as channels of materialization in marketing.

As previously mentioned, the Fear of Missing Out occurs even in non-transactional scenarios such as attending a party because everyone else will be there, getting a Ph.D. because college classmates are doing it, or participating in a viral Tik-Tok challenge —or having another slice of pizza because everyone at the table is having more.

Ginormous Pizza, Anyone? – The Papa John’s Case Study

In 2019, Papa John’s, a pizzeria that had been taking the financial and reputational hit for a scandal involving its ex-CEO, announced a brand new campaign: “Better Days.” The campaign was aimed at repairing the brand’s reputation and conversely boosting sales. In what would be a very profitable pick, the face of this effort was American all-star former professional center, Shaquille O’Neal, famously known as “Shaq.” The campaign tag, “Better Days” was deduced from Papa John’s slogan, “better ingredients, better pizza,” and to commemorate the campaign, the brand unveiled an exclusive addition to the menu. This special pizza would be on sale in the United States between the 29th of June and the 23rd of August, and it was named the Shaq-a-roni pizza, after the face of the campaign.

FOMO - showing pizza slice
Image Source: Papa John’s

The limited edition 16-inch pizza took the American market by storm, and the following year saw an estimated $3 million Shaq-a-ronis sold, not including other items on the menu. What were the crucial elements of this success story? Evidently, there was a need to rebrand, and then, there was the face of the rebrand–and importantly, the limited time factor. This third element traces back to FOMO, the highlight of this blog’s conversation, and underscores the efficacy of a well-implemented FOMO strategy.

Let’s see how another brand pulled this off, and on a wider market platform.

Fizzy Frenzy- The Coca-Cola Case Study

Coca-Cola picked up global steam in 2011 with the “Share a Coke” campaign which launched in Australia and spread to 70 other countries by 2016, including Britain, the United States of America, and China. Coke bottles and can wrappings were redesigned to bear custom first names with the prefix “Share a Coke with…”

With the consumer population so eager to find their names imprinted on their coke bottles and cans, they joined the over 500,000-photo trend on social media with the #ShareaCoke en masse. It was no wonder that 250 million units were sold in Australia alone by the summertime of its inception. This stunning success would be repeated across the world as Coca-Cola in other countries adopted the campaign and infused local monikers into their naming, resonating heavily with the indigenous peoples and their culture.

Coca-Cola, through this campaign, achieved the double feat of through-the-roof sales, and further endearing consumers to the brand, all in one. As for the customers, there was no ignoring the exclusivity (of personalization) extended to them so individually – just as there was no missing out on the all-inclusive social media photo rush.

FOMO - showing three different cold drink brands
Image Source: Packaging News, UK

The Takeaway

Given its concordant history with marketing, FOMO lends some credit of its growing popularity to marketing brands (like the aforementioned) whose strategy books are incomplete without it. The masterly infusion of FOMO as a marketing technique has earned these brands their prominent place in the global market, with their vast demographic of ever-respondent customers. By creating community-type consumer clusters around a brand, attention remains consistent and relevance is sustained. While epitomizing inclusivity and exclusivity to generate active consumer feedback, FOMO rides on other elements that justify it as a wholesome marketing strategy.
FOMO Framework - showing chess board and chess pieces
Image Source: Unsplash

Elements of a good FOMO strategy

As deductible from the case studies, pulling off an effective FOMO strategy requires the combination of important elements to elicit the right response from a target demographic. These elements are persuasionproof, and transience.

Persuasion uses extended influence to draw traction to the brand, exemplified by Papa John’s campaign headlined by Shaquille O’Neal. Celebrity endorsements and social media influencing are sub-variants of the persuasion technique, but not every brand can sign on an ex-NBA player or a famous actor. Instead, the use of incentives such as promos and discounts also effectively brings the spotlight to a brand by generating conversations around the discounted product or service. This method typically persuades skeptical or shrewd customers to action.

The art of proof is just as potent in getting consumers to click the “buy” button as persuasion, and it is two-pronged. First, people want to know that the featured product or service is in demand. Desire is infectious, as in the Coca-Cola story. The average human wants whatever other people enjoy because they want to experience the same. Using popular mutual demand to magnet even more consumers to a brand is one of the oldest marketing tricks in the book. The second aspect of proof inspires assurance in the featured product’s quality. By displaying that family, friends, acquaintances, or people in the same demographic have successfully experienced a brand; consumers find themselves unwilling to be left out of the zeitgeist–which is great for business.

To introduce the third element of an effective FOMO strategy, here is another quick story:

On April 19 2017, Starbucks introduced the limited edition Unicorn Frappuccino, a multi-colored fruity neon drink that set Instagram abuzz with thousands of photos.
Reportedly, this $5 drink did not score very high in the flavour department. Nonetheless, its aesthetic appeal drove thousands of people to one of the over 8,000 Starbucks stores in America to purchase a cup. The Unicorn Frappuccino dominated the internet until the last cup was sold five days after, and there was no bigger mobile marketing strategy that year.

Transience is perhaps the most defining element of a flawless FOMO strategy as it cues urgency. Borrowing a part of its nature from exclusivity, transience communicates the notion of limited supply and triggers the irresistible urge to respond swiftly. It is assumable that the hype around the Unicorn Frappuccino could have been diluted were it not for the announcement of its limited-time sale.

FOMO Framework - showing icecream cup with a straw
Image Source: Pinterest

FOMO: An Open Secret

Vividly, FOMO is useful for drawing traction to businesses and ultimately increasing sales, but there is a thin line between achieving that and being a buzzing fly in the ears of your target audience.Worse still, a poorly executed FOMO strategy may come across as an attempt at psychological manipulation, emotional blackmail, or subtle coercion—all of which are offensive to people and precarious for the brand involved.

Statistically, FOMO has a lurking dark side to it, but the same statistics prove that focusing on the positives can be very advantageous for your brand. A tip to stay on course is to cut down on generic spammy and overly salesy approaches. Instead, aim for relatability with the target audience and their unique identities.With reference to the opening illustration, the seamlessness of properly integrating FOMO into marketing is by dint of its natural occurrence to people in circumstances completely cut off from marketing – making it as natural as good marketing needs to be.On a final note, FOMO isn’t necessarily clandestine. A good FOMO marketing strategy may be recognizable from a mile away, but this takes nothing from its efficacy. After all, the product or service purchased is for the consumer’s benefit.

It’s a win-win.

Also Read: Branding and How To Do It

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