The power of rarity and scarcity.

How can brands use ‘Limited Editions’ to excite, drive loyalty and stand out from the crowd?

2020 has so far been a strange, upended year of unusual and unfathomable events. Many of us are caught in a state of flux as we attempt to limbo our way out of this chaos and towards something that resembles normality. The same can also be said of brands as they look to navigate and sidestep their way through and out of this COVID-19 chaos.

Now, more than ever, brands must think, act and engage with their audience in new, exciting and relevant ways to stand out, deliver joy, drive loyalty and attract new consumers (people!).

A tried and tested tactic deployed by brands to drive excitement is through the use and release of a limited edition product or piece of packaging, but over the last couple of years we’ve seen the concept of ‘Limited’ morph and change. It has become less about the physical and more about a unique or unusual experience, less about seasonal or predictable fixed occasions and more about limited availability and scarcity to drive desire, and it’s also become less about collaborations with famous artists, designers and even musicians, and more about collusions with unexpected brands from different sectors.

In the current climate, Brands need to break the rules of ‘Limited’, dare to disrupt and boldly stand for something. This article explores and identifies three different ways in which brands can learn from and be inspired by others.

Be more BrewDog.

Relevant, irreverent and fast-acting are just some words that reflect the BrewDog approach to limited editions. Back in May, Brewdog did just that with therelease of a small batch hazy IPA called ‘Barnard Castle Eye Test’ which was adeliberate and cheeky response to government advisor Dominic Cummings drivingto Barnard Castle with his wife and child to test his eyesight before driving back toLondon. Other names in the mix were, Cummings and Goings, 260 Miles or Stay atHome.Yet, this isn’t the first time the Scottish brewery has made a political statement, way back in 2014 they launched a ‘protest beer’ called ‘Hello, My Name is Vladimir’ which featured a Warhol-esque impression of Vladimir Putin wearing make-up on its label and the satirical ‘not for gays’ in small print across the bottom. The 8.2% beer went on sale shortly before the Sochi Winter Olympics as a protest against the discriminatory gay laws signed off by Putin.

Never a brand to shy away from controversy, they also launched a Viagra-laced beer to mark the Royal wedding back in 2011, called the ‘Royal Virility Performance’. And, only this week they’ve released Street Dog, a partnership with comedian Ricky Gervais on a re-branded version of the brewer’s popular Punk IPA. The cans will feature dog adoption ads specially selected by charities ‘All Dogs Matter’ and ‘Dogs on the Streets’. 100% of the profits will be split evenly between the two charities. Whatever will they come up with next?

Create for a cause.

People (consumers) are looking for and seeking out brands with a clear and positive purpose, and that have a similar set of shared views and values. Recently Camden Town Brewery launched a limited edition lager in support of healthcare workers and charities who have done so much good during COVID-19.Heroes, thank you lager’ was a temporary rebrand of its classic ‘Camden Hells’ lager with all proceeds going to charity and up to 200,000 cans being donated directly to frontline workers as a token of thanks.

Moving on, the month of June is now officially recognized as Pride Month all over the world, with many major brands launching collections in honour of equality and inclusivity. This year Under Armour launched a range of rainbow flag inspired apparel and footwear, and in addition created the ‘UA PRIDE Grand Program’ which seeks to alleviate financial hardships that have fallen upon the LGBTQ and community due to COVID-19.

On a slightly lighter note, Miller Lite (pre-pandemic) developed a campaign to encourage people to take a break from social media and enjoy some IRL (In Real Life) engagement with friends. As part of the campaign Miller Lite offered free beer in limited edition cans to anyone that could ignore their phone for longer than half an hour. So, how does it work? A QR code is used to set a 30 minute timer (via Facebook ironically) and those that successfully avoid picking up their phones, win a beautiful black limited-edition can that has the brand mark ghosted in grey on the front, and a toast to “real friends, the original social media” on the back in gold.

Manufacture the mash up

A third and arguably the freshest approach to limited editions is through cross category collaborations with other unexpected but suitably brave brands, to create disruption and new news. In spring/summer 2020 Supreme collaborated with Oreo and mystery Instagrammer Breadface to drop the remarkable red cookie. It was sold in packs of three and were said to be reselling for over $15,000 USD.

Another highly unexpected collaboration saw Nike SB team up with convenience store 7-Eleven to create the ‘Low Dunk’ sneaker which adopts the orange, red, green and white colourway of the famous grocery store. Only available in Japan this is one collaboration you probably never expected to see. Yet, Nike didn’t stop there, and in May they teamed up with ice-cream legends Ben & Jerry to create the ‘Chunky Dunky’ sneaker. Inspired by blue skies, bovines and green pastures with tie-dye patterns and bold graphics, this is a limited edition that’s bang on brand/s and strangely, seems to makes sense.

And finally, what do you get if you cross southern fried chicken with a comfortable, waterproof, slip-resistant shoe worn by your uncool uncle? Well, you get the KFC x Crocs Classic Clog of course. This crazy croc was dropped in June and quickly sold out thanks to their unique design and familiar, slightly unsavoury smell. For every pair sold, KFC donated $3 USD to the KFC Foundation REACH education program which helps its employees further their education.

So, not all brands should feel the need to approach limited editions with the same attitude and oomph as BrewDog, Supreme or Nike. Brands must identify a strategy that has the right energy, emotion and synergy to its core values and that connect with its audience. That said, it’s also important that brands can learn from and be inspired by others, unburdened by the day-to-day challenges of their business, and enjoy the limitless freedom and fun you can have with limited editions.

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