Doing your weekly shopping, you’ve ticked everything off your list. But wait! There’s a “BUY 1 GET 2 FREE – VALID TODAY ONLY” sign over your favourite product range. The bargain-loving part of your brain leaps into action. You don’t really need more right now, but the deal seems too good to pass. An impulsive buy? Sounds familiar? It’s nothing but FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) at work.

If you’re in the marketing field, you’re probably already nodding along in familiarity. If not, here’s a glimpse: FOMO triggers our sense of excitement and urgency, that niggling fear of missing something special. Marketers have long harnessed this feeling to create buzz around products, promotions or events.

What is FOMO?

While the term FOMO was coined only in 2004, it represents a deeply ingrained human instinct – but just got a catchy acronym in our digital age. This phenomenon is rooted in social psychology and evolutionary biology. Our ancestors survived by staying connected with their group; being left out could mean missing out on vital resources or protection. Today, this phenomenon has been recognised by neuroscientists as a response triggered by our brain’s amygdala, signaling a stress response due to the perceived threat of missing out on a rewarding experience.  At its core, FOMO about our inherent desire to seize opportunities and partake in shared experiences – a natural human response.

For marketers, this means an opportunity to create engaging experiences that resonate with this inherent human desire. It’s about tapping into FOMO positively and ethically to enhance customer experiences, drive engagement and foster a shared sense of excitement and participation.

Fear of Missing OUT (FOMO) in Marketing

FOMO and marketing are a natural pairing. Clever marketers have recognised this connection and integrated FOMO responsibly into their strategies:

  • Product scarcity: Take the McDonald’s McRib sandwich for example. By only making it available intermittently, McDonald’s creates anticipation and FOMO among its customers, transforming the McRib into a cultural event. 
  • Limited-time sales: Amazon’s annual Prime Day is another example. This exclusive, 48-hour event offers significant deals for Prime members, creating a buzz and a sense of urgency among customers. 
  • Early bird specials: Apple’s early bird specials for iPhone pre-orders build anticipation and FOMO, ensuring high demand even before the product is available to the public. 

According to Credit Karma, 40% of millennials purchase items just to keep up with their friends because of FOMO. Tapping into this powerful psychological driver can yield significant success.

Key Elements of FOMO and Limited Time Promotions

There’s a certain art to using FOMO effectively in limited-time promotions. The ingredients include scarcity, urgency, and exclusivity, all of which are capable of turning an everyday customer into an excited participant in your brand’s narrative.

Scarcity: Everyone appreciates owning something unique or rare. Scarcity is a psychological lever that marketers can press to create an urgency in consumers to act. For example, an e-commerce site can show how many units of a product are left in stock. Including phrases like “only a few left” or “selling out fast” can ignite that spark of FOMO and prompt consumers to make an immediate purchase. This not only propels immediate sales but also raises the perceived value and desirability of the product.

Urgency: Limited-time promotions are tailor-made to spark urgency. The ticking clock adds an edge to the buying experience, making the consumer act quickly or miss out. An actual countdown timer shown on a website or in marketing emails can heighten this sense of urgency, making the offer seem more immediate and tangible. Other approaches include limited-time cashback or trade-in offers that nudge the customer to make quick decisions to secure the benefits before they disappear.

Exclusivity: People love to feel special and valued, and this desire for exclusivity can be a powerful driver in a marketing context. Whether it’s early access to sales, VIP experiences, or unique rewards, giving your customers something ‘extra’ can make them feel a part of an elite club. This not only triggers immediate engagement but also fosters a deeper connection with your brand that can lead to long-term loyalty and even advocacy.


Match Promotions with Consumer Psychology


Maximising FOMO in Your Multichannel Marketing Strategies

To implement FOMO effectively, every marketing channel should echo the sense of urgency, exclusivity, and scarcity. Here are some specific strategies for various channels:

  1. Email Marketing: To induce FOMO, create a sense of urgency and exclusivity right from the subject line. For example, phrases like “Only 24 hours left: Grab Your Exclusive Deal!” or “John, Your Personalised Offer Expires Soon!” instantly convey scarcity and personalisation.
  2. Website Landing Pages: Use visual cues to generate FOMO. For instance, a countdown timer can create urgency, signaling customers they might miss out if they don’t act fast. Displaying real-time low stock alerts can also leverage scarcity and push visitors to make the purchase.
  3. Social Media: Leverage social proof and real-time engagement to induce FOMO. For instance, a live stream of an event or flash sale can make viewers feel they are missing out if they don’t participate. User-generated content such as customer reviews or people using your product can further tap into the fear of being left out.
  4. Content Marketing: In your blog posts or articles, illustrate the benefits of your product, but also hint at what customers might miss if they delay their purchase. Testimonials and case studies can also play a pivotal role in creating FOMO.
  5. Influencer Marketing: Having influencers use and review your products, especially in a limited-time scenario, can provoke FOMO among their followers. Their influence can create an ‘everyone else is doing it’ feeling, encouraging swift action.
  6. Online Ads: Utilise platforms like Google Ads or social media ads to highlight limited-time offers. Ads with a clear end date and time can create a sense of urgency.

These are just a few examples of how FOMO can be weaved into different aspects of your marketing strategies. Remember, the objective is not to force consumers into hasty decisions but to offer genuine value that they wouldn’t want to miss.

Maintaining Ethical Standards and Regulatory Compliance with FOMO Marketing

Implementing FOMO tactics in your marketing can be a powerful tool, but it is crucial to uphold ethical standards and ensure sustainable practices that protect your brand’s reputation and consumer trust.

  • Maintain Transparency: Be open and honest with your customers. If your offer is for a limited time or quantity, ensure your customers know. False scarcity or deceptive claims can tarnish your brand image and customer relationships.
  • Ensure a Balanced Approach: Continually triggering FOMO might overwhelm your customers, causing disengagement or devaluation of your promotions. Balance your FOMO strategies with valuable, enriching content such as educational guides, customer testimonials, or product highlights.
  • Promote a Positive Brand Image: Strive to maintain a positive, authentic, and relatable brand image. Aggressive marketing can turn customers away. A harmonious blend of urgency and positive brand representation can drive engagement while ensuring customers’ loyalty.
  • Demonstrate Customer Appreciation: Instead of overwhelming customers with relentless limited-time promotions, show appreciation for their loyalty. This could include exclusive rewards, special discounts, or unique content. A valued customer is more likely to engage, purchase, and promote your brand to others.
  • Adhere to Advertising Regulations: Stay compliant with advertising regulations set by local or regional authorities. Transparency about pricing, discounts, and product claims can help prevent legal issues and maintain customers’ trust.

Understanding the rules set by regulatory bodies, such as the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) in the UK, is key to implementing ethical marketing campaigns.

Here are some basic outlines of regulations set out by the ASA that you need to consider when planning your campaigns.

  • Advertisers must hold evidence to support any claims made in their advertisements. Before making specific claims about products or services, ensure that you have enough evidence to back up those claims. Be careful when claiming that your products are “the best” if there is no evidence to support it.
  • Prices and offers should be transparent and should not be misleading to consumers. If you advertise a discounted price or special offer, the product should have been sold at the higher price before the promotion.
  • Advertisements should be socially responsible and should not condone or promote harmful behaviours or offensive content. Care should be taken when advertising products or services that may have age restrictions or potential health implications.
  • Special care must be taken when advertising to children and young people. Advertisements should not exploit their inexperience or vulnerability and should not encourage them to make excessive or unhealthy purchases.

Final Thoughts: Striking the Balance in FOMO Marketing

Leveraging the power of FOMO offers an exciting opportunity to amplify engagement and increase conversions. It’s about creating genuine value for your audience, making each interaction a positive experience that enhances their connection to your brand. However, remember that trust is the cornerstone of any relationship. Be transparent, be fair, and be honest. Your customers will reward you with their loyalty and enthusiasm. Remember, the end goal is not merely to induce the fear of missing out, but to genuinely provide your audience with something truly valuable that they wouldn’t want to miss out on.