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Eric Cartman & the Power of Scarcity (Just Hear Me Out)

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According to FastCompany, “Jonah Berger is a 32-year-old Wharton professor who has become one of the world’s foremost experts on what goes viral and why. It’s easy to find examples of products or ideas that have spread and become popular, but as he writes, ‘It’s much harder to actually get something to catch on.’” 

Berger has a new book out which looks interesting. It’s called Contagious: Why Things Catch On. Actually, it looks really interesting. 

And it reminded me of something: South Park’s Eric Cartman and the “You can’t come” principle. The short version is this: Eric inherits a bunch of money from his grandmother. He immediately buys a failing amusement park not because he wants to revitalize it and turn a profit but because he wants his ownamusement park. He also wants to rub it in everyone’s face (especially those of his buddies Stan and Kyle). So… he makes it loud and clear that Cartmanland is for Cartman only. The rest of you? You can’t come. And thus, the seed for demand is sown. 

Here’s a quick clip, via South Park Studios (not really NSFW, but whatever)…

Eric then hires a security guard to keep Stan and Kyle out. In order to pay the security guard, he has to let in two guests per day. No problem. Everyone’s dying to get into Cartmanland.

Then there’s a maintenance need. Two more guests. Then food and snacks. Two more guests. 

All of the sudden, much to his own personal fury, he’s resurrected the business, and the park is turning a profit. 

When you create exclusivity that includes elements of possible or “certain though uncertain as to when” access, demand is likely to go up. When people want to say, “I’m an insider,” or “I got into that restaurant… What? You haven’t heard of it? Wow. Let me be the font of insider knowledge…” you’re on to something. And while Cartman’s motives likely don’t align with what I expect to find in Berger’s book, it would be pretty awesome if there’s a “You Can’t Come” chapter.

Bringing this back to South Park—that’s what’s important, right?—the Cartman principle gets replicated across industries. An empty restaurant with a huge line of guests waiting to get in… in the stock market… the list goes on. Talking heads even go on to call him the economist of the year. 

Now off to buy Berger’s book…

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