The art of disappointing your customers

Branding, Communications, Engagement, Public Relations

Declan Evans 9 Nov 2022
5 mins
Customers lining up outside a Louis Vuitton Store

Limited releases are fantastic for brand engagement, but offer too few, or make your special line too hard to get, and you risk driving business elsewhere.

Here’s how to balance an exclusive limited release with the right mix of incentives and promotion to keep your customers coming back.

Why should I consider a limited-edition release?

Limited edition releases can create a sense of exclusivity for your brand and build immediate demand for your products.

They are a way for industries to create buzz around new releases, collaborations, and milestone or anniversary products.

Products such as designer clothing, sneakers, food, cars, watches and technology have all successfully implemented limited releases. With the right product and customer base, they can be effective across many other areas.

The opportunity

Limited releases provide brands an opportunity to sell their exclusive items while increasing sales of their regular catalogue.

With limited releases comes an element of desirability, with customers wanting to get hold of a never-to-be-seen again item.

For an item like sneakers, that desirability can take form in the shape of long lines for specific releases – lasting for days. It has also led to violent incidents, even death.

The scarcity of limited releases creates FOMO – fear of missing out – which marketers prey on when advertising their products. If the hype gathers traction on social media, the FOMO can be extensive.

Limited releases can also assist in creating brand loyalty. The exclusivity of limited-edition products can drive consumers to build a strong, emotional connection with their acquisition, resulting in a deep personal association with the brand.

Brands can also revive an old product through a limited release, with limited time or quantity driving consumers through the doors chasing the nostalgia of re-experiencing their favourite product.

Disappointing my customers… why would I want to do that?

There are serious PR risks associated with releasing new or discontinued items in limited quantities.

Release too few, you run the risk of disappointing consumers and distributors. People spend time and money getting their hands on products, while distributors are vying for the traffic at their shopfronts or online stores.

Get your messaging wrong and you’ll have angry consumers wondering why there wasn’t more clarification around the availability – or lack thereof – of the product they are trying to get their hands on.

When McDonalds released a limited-edition Szechuan sauce in the US – which leapt to prominence when it was featured on the cartoon Rick and Morty – there were thousands of disappointed and angry customers once the sauce ran out. McDonalds dealt with a serious PR disaster, while employees were left to dealt with angry mobs.

Another major problem is the resell market that has developed for these exclusive products.

Resell issues for limited edition items have increased with the use of bots. In the age of e-commerce, bots are being used to jump the queue and purchase these items – often for the sole purpose of reselling for way above the original price.

Today, word spreads fast online with consumers quick to express their frustration with missing out on their favourite release. This feeling can grow when they immediately see these products reselling for massive markups on secondary markets. This feeling can lead some consumers to cheaper alternatives – knockoffs and fakes.

Knockoffs can be a great compliment, highlighting that brands are doing a lot right. But if they are low quality, as they often are, counterfeit products also run the risk of devaluing your brand and jeopardising future releases – a double edged sword.


Developing your limited-edition strategy

Companies considering offering a limited release product need to cover off on these basic things.

Most importantly, does your product or service suit a limited edition release? Not all products can generate the hype of exclusivity. Ensuring you’ve conducted market research before beginning the process is vital.

That research will help you down the line. Like when working out quantities – balancing exclusivity with satisfying enough of your customer base, while avoiding the creation of an outrageous resale market. Research will also determine timing, a valuable asset in generating hype.

The next step is working out your marketing strategy. Are you releasing this product once? Are you releasing it once a year for a set number of years? Making sure you’ve considered this before putting your product to market is vital.

As long as you are being transparent with clear messaging, consumers will understand – eventually.


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Brands should also consider the rest of their catalogue. With limited edition releases generating hype, your regular products should be well stocked, well promoted and in a position to capitalise on increased store or web traffic.

From there, you can be as creative as you want. Social media can and should be leveraged, with influencers, countdowns, teasers and many other tools available to build the hype around your product.

Looking to the metaverse

One option for brands looking to diversify their limited-edition range — without the physical costs that accompany small-scale manufacturing runs — is to develop a collaboration in the metaverse.

We are increasingly seeing crossovers between brands and digital designers, entertainers, musicians, gamers, sports stars or fashion influencers and others to create digital products that capture the same excitement as those in the real world.

Brands are taking their products to the metaverse, with Coca-Cola releasing a metaverse inspired drink flavour called Byte. The company says it’s the first-ever Coca-Cola flavour born in the metaverse, explaining its ‘digitally-inspired cues come together to build a flavour experience that introduces the humble pixel [in real life]’.

The drink was met with mixed reviews but shows that a mix of industries are trying to explore the possibilities of the metaverse.

Take your brand to the next level

Limited edition releases can have short-term and long-term benefits for your brands. With the desirability of exclusive products driving traffic to your store while building an ongoing presence for your brand.

By finding the balance of satisfying a solid customer base while maintaining exclusivity, brands can lift their sales, web traffic, social media following and create a loyal customer base that will be keeping a close eye on what you do next.

Declan Evans More from author

Declan is a Senior Consultant in our Corporate Affairs team, working with a range of clients in the manufacturing, technology and property sectors.

With a degree in Mass Communications from Curtin University, Declan brings a passion for writing and communicating through a wide variety of mediums, with a keen interest in writing strategic communications within a crisis space.

Declan has experience in marketing and sales, and after spending time living overseas, found a love for collaborating with a diverse range of cultures and backgrounds.

Out of the office, Declan spends his spare time playing and watching a variety of sports, searching high and low for new music, and exploring the globe.

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