Most of us are smart. We see when we’re being duped. Our logic takes hold of our emotions—thankfully. But tell anyone that there is a shortage of something and the inner-hoarder in all of us creeps out and treks to the store to acquire the coveted product.

Right now, Velveeta, yes—the orange-colored, highly-processed cheese food—holds the moniker. It’s all highly suspect, especially so close to the Super Bowl. It all began with an enterprising report in Advertising Age that noted some East Coast grocery stores were running out of Velveeta cheese — and didn’t know why. Kraft craftily declined to remark on the specific reasons for the shortage. However, it issued a highly circumspect statement that “this is really a short-term issue that’s more noticeable right now given the increased seasonal demand.” It’s turned into a national frenzy of sorts, with prominent coverage on the Today Show.

velveetaHold up. Velveeta? If there is one cheese product on the planet that should never run out, it’s Velveeta. The stuff lasts indefinitely. Methinks mesmells a hoax. Remember Twinkies? Harken back to December 2012 when Hostess Brands was in bankruptcy, a period of mass panic engulfed fans of Twinkies, Ding Dongs, and other Hostess baked goods. Panic subsided when private equity companies bought the brands and Twinkies were stocked on shelves with barely a beep from the grocery store checkout clerk.

So…is this marketing concept of shortage only applicable to nonperishable foodstuffs? The auto industry has learned the appeal of “limited.” The Ferrari Enzo, one of the most expensive cars gained its allure in large part because only 400 were produced. Its price tag? Well over a million. For tech, the gaming industry has studied, listened and tried to emulate success in forms of the Nintendo limited edition 3DS and the limited edition iPhones, but its success has been limited to consumer tech.

When considering auto and tech, it seems like the determining factors are performance and differentiation. Shortages seem to work best when targeted to those consumers craving, embracing and longing for the unique or those willing to pay big bucks for marginally better performance and the luxe of “limited.” For food, the game is best played with mass market brands that have a history and a stake in Americana culture—think old Coke vs. new Coke. As with any marketing campaign the trick is in the placement, brand sensitivity and most of all knowing your audience. As for Velveeta, it’s curious that when searching “Super Bowl recipes” Kraft appears at the tippy top of the search list, making us crave Velveeta even more.


J.Tyler Bus1Janet Tyler is the Co-CEO of Airfoil, an integrated marketing communications firm with offices in Silicon Valley, Detroit, London and Hong Kong. Follow Janet on Twitter: @Janet_Tyler