“0 Spots Left” in an ad

While reading an interesting article in Catapult magazine, I saw the following ad:


What stands out about this ad to me is that it’s asking you to signup for a workshop, yet it says that there are “0 spots” left in the workshop.

What? Huh? Why would you possibly advertise something that is not just full, but that you explicitly call out in the ad as being full?

There are a few possible explanations.

The most likely one is just outright false advertising. It’s a classic “psychology as applied to sales” observation that people like scarcity. And what is more scarce than something unavailable. It’s like everyone wants to date the girl that everyone else is dating. So, maybe you can become that girl by telling everyone you’re already dating someone?

But that can easily backfire: people can usually smell a lie based on everything else in the context. Reminds me of the classic Onion article, Canadian Girlfriend Unsubstantiated.

Another possible explanation is that this was merely a test. Yes, it probably won’t work, but maybe it will? One of the most amazing parts of online advertising is that you truly never know what will or won’t work.

A third possibility is humor. It is for a writing workshop, after all, and if you expect anyone to have a sense of humor, it would be a writer, right? (Not this writer, though!) Maybe it was a subtle way of mocking online marketers, or perhaps even the users themselves: yes, we know you’re gullible.

And that leads to the fourth possibility: maybe it’s a way of selecting for the more naive users. Those who would see this and be attracted by it and click on it–without realizing what is happening–are probably easier to sell the workshop to. So it is like typos in spam: meant to attract the naive.

It’s notable also that this was an image ad, not a text-generated ad — which means that this ad was manually created beforehand, not insta-generated by AdWords. (Also note it’s not a Google Ad: there is no “i” in the circle icon.) Which means it was manually created and thus unlikely to be connected to any real number. No one updates their ads with the real-time info like that, for small workshops and tiny campaigns like this; the technology to do that is here, but only available on a massive scale.

But the question remains: did it work? Who knows, but my guess would be: yes. Too many people are that gullible.

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