Cigarticles

Cigarticle: Feeding Frenzies - Rumor, Fear and the Madness of Crowds

Marketing and group dynamics

 
One of the most effective marketing tools for increasing demand for a product is creating scarcity. Interestingly enough, human nature makes items that are in short supply almost irresistible. In fact, the more scarce an item, the more we covet it. Take diamonds for example, or the only slightly less expensive Opus X cigars from Arturo Fuente. In each case the scarcity of the product elevates it to a position of almost cult status in the market.
 

 

The creation of scarcity can be either intentional or unintentional, but to be successful at raising demand it must be combined with a sense of urgency. In other words, a product can be rare and only moderately interesting, but let word of its scarcity spread and that same product rapidly goes from interesting to fascinating to mesmerizing.

The busy signal at the other end of the line redoubles your resolve and you begin to mutter curses under your breath as you stab at the push buttons on the phone. The postings from other members of the bulletin board crowing at their successful purchases simply heighten your frustration as the infuriating busy signal drones on and on in your ear.

Enter the Internet

With the ability to link large numbers of people, instantaneously, the Internet provides the perfect mechanism to trigger this type of reactive event. Newsgroups, bulletin boards and online forums foster communities of interest where information such as quality, preferences and availability are discussed worldwide, day or night, and in excruciating detail.
 

 
In some cases the entire phenomenon of a sought after cigar, from start to finish, was created, nurtured, and beaten to a frenzy, all within the context of one particular on-line community. The JR Bulletin Board (JRBB) that was associated with JR Cigars during the late 90s and into the early 2000s was famous for its "feeding frenzies" as members lined up in droves to buy the latest hot product. Cigar Weekly also had its share of frenzies, sometimes links would point to a thread on the JRBB, and sometimes directly to the order page.

After what seems like an eternity, the harried sales person at the cigar retailer answers the phone. "Unbelievable," she mutters, "The phone hasn't stopped ringing all morning!" Elated to have finally gotten through, and oblivious to both your budget and the rent payment hanging over your head, you breathlessly ask how many bundles of this coveted cigar remain in stock and order far more than you either need or can afford.

A history of madness

This wild and irrational cigar behavior has been going on for years. Consuegra 84s, the elusive torpedoes that are reputedly seconds of El Rey del Mundo Flor de Llanezas, are the poster children for this behavior. On the old JRBB, a single posting alluding to the availability of these sticks was enough to cause a busy signal at the JR Cigars 800 number for hours.
 

 
Another JRBB favorite, the Montecristo 444, took a while to reach cult status, but ultimately resulted in almost a cottage industry of people trading and selling these relatively rare cigars. Only the untimely discontinuation of the vitola stopped the madness, and even then the discussion of the fabled cigar went on for years, finally resulting in the introduction of a related cigar, the Montecristo Afrique 444, and now the re-release of "the original" Montecristo 444. Ironically these "originals" sold out within hours during a recent JR Weekly Special.

Within hours, sometimes minutes, the cigars are sold out and the frenzy abates. Talk on the board turns to the cigars themselves. Glowing, almost reverent descriptions of the quality, value and especially the luck of obtaining the sought after cigars continue for weeks, even months. Those people brave or foolish enough to take contrary opinions are shouted down as heretics until the next big frenzy explodes on the scene.

Coolers full of booty

Mitch Radcliffe is famous for saying, "A computer lets you make more mistakes faster than any invention in human history - with the possible exceptions of handguns and tequila." It's when I peer into my dusty basement, my humidors, like pirate treasure chests stuffed to overflowing with rare cigar artifacts gathered during the frenzies of yore stacked up to the rafters, that I truly appreciate the power of this phenomenon. And yet, despite the bounty secured below decks, I must admit that seeing another post this morning on the availability of "sweet milky caramel cocoa marevas" had me salivating. The Por Larrañaga Petit Coronas Cabinet appears to be the latest cigar to achieve this notoriety.

Now, anybody want some VillHats?



ElkTwin

Roger Farnsworth (ElkTwin) is a husband, father, globally recognized marketing sage and erstwhile gentleman rancher with a slightly irreverant view of life. Roger has enjoyed cigars on six continents and in 18 time zones. His musings on technology can occasionally be found in respected periodicals and trade journals.