Every now and again, Disney pulls movies out of the marketplace and places them out of consumer reach in the vaunted “Disney Vault.” On the surface, this makes no sense: Why would a company, which obviously makes money by selling products, make it impossible for customers to buy the products? But what this piece of marketing engineering really does is cook up instant consumer demand, giving Disney fans a compelling reason to buy—and buy right now—that otherwise wouldn’t exist.
Eric Felten, in the WSJ, writes about the “scarcely scarce scarcity” created by Disney’s marketeers, explaining that “the dreaded vault isn’t so much about creating excitement as it is about creating fear.” The idea is that fans of movies like “Snow White” and “Fantasia,” which both went into the vault in April—but which you can borrow from Netflix, the local library, or, chances are, every one of your neighbors with kids—will be more likely to buy these movies if they’re scared a time will come when (God forbid) they cannot buy these movies. At least until the new-new, freshly digitally remastered, freshly repriced edition comes out, of course.
Felten aptly compares Disney’s unpredictable DVD removal practices to experiments conducted on lab rats:
The old behaviorists found that if a lab rat knew it would get a pellet every time it hit the lever, the rat would take his time, collecting his food only when he wanted it. But if the payoff was randomized and the rat didn’t know which hit of the lever would deliver, the poor, anxious lab animal could be counted on to keep up a steady tattoo.
How ironic: Mickey Mouse treating us all like easily manipulated rats.