Manufacture desirability

An object has to be desirable in order for envy to work as a motivating force.


  • Apple creates desirability in many ways with each new release of their products. They are secretive leading up to a launch, which creates large quantities of speculation. People stand in line for days waiting to be the first to have the new product. The newly launched product then typically sells out fast, creating scarcity. Celebrities tweet about or are seen with the product, which is typically very pleasing to look at and has a unique interaction design that solves problems in an elegant manner, especially if it provides functionality that solves a problem that people didn’t previously know they had.


If nobody desires an object, that object is unlikely to create envy. Because envy is such a strong motivator, persuasion works by first creating desire and then leveraging that desire with envy. Some ways to create desire are:

  • Secrecy (being one of the few in the know about an item)
  • Scarcity (small numbers, low availability of the item)
  • Identity (Identify the item with a desirable lifestyle, person, or activity)
  • Aesthetics (the item is pleasing to look at, hold, use)
  • Functionality (the item solves a problem nobody else is solving)

How to create desirability

  • Use one or more of the five desire paths – Secrecy, Scarcity, Identity, Aesthetics, Functionality – to make people want what you offer.
    • Secrecy: Provide little information about the substance or timing of a product release. Let a small group of well-connected individuals know what’s happening, and wait for them to leak small details. This works best if your business has already established other elements of desirability.
    • Scarcity: Make a release exclusive (through price or quantity), or just hard to find. Have sufficient product waiting in the wings for when the panic buying starts.
    • Identity: The staple of print advertising. You don’t get a bikini-clad model free with every bottle of sunscreen you buy, but you’d expect this to be the case given the frequency of association in adverts.
    • Aesthetics: The design, feel, and usability of the product must resonate with your target audience. This is hard to fake – it takes real work to make an aesthetically pleasing product.
    • Functionality: Identify and then solve a problem that nobody else has solved. Although not easy, this is very effective. Even solving small problems can have a big pay-off.

Blog posts about this pattern

  • Smartphones so desirable NY State Attorney General gets involved iPhones and other high-end smartphones are desirable enough, small enough, and sufficiently publicly accessible that they have created a whole category of crimes, now described as “Apple picking.” 11,447 Apple products were stolen in New York City alone in the first three quarters of 2012. I wrote in the pattern “Create desirability to produce envy” that ...
  • Skylanders and the power of collecting a set Wired magazine has a humorous article on the power of the Sklyanders franchise. Skylanders is a kid’s computer game with add-on extras. You purchase a real-world figure and place it on a USB reader (sorry, “Portal of Power”) to add the player to your copy of the game. Different players have different skills and powers, ...