Brands are hyped about product drops. What does it take to do them right?
Direct-to-consumer brands from cookies to couches are leaning into FOMO and leveraging scarcity in order to create buzz.
In the time it takes to ask yourself “should I really be spending $140 on 12 cookies?”, Last Crumb’s latest drop is likely to have sold out.
Each week, the brand lets customers know that a new batch of cookies is up for grabs on its site, where they sell out in “seconds” according to the company’s CEO, Matthew Jung. Six months since launching, the company has sold over $1 million of cookies using this method and raised another $1 million in investment.
The money has helped Last Crumb secure a bigger production facility, and hire more hands to help make and shift its cookies. It’s increasing the number of cookies it makes each week, but Jung says it will be some time before the brand has finally caught up with demand.
The cookie brand is using a sales tactic that’s more commonly associated with sneakers and streetwear brands. More brands, having witnessed the marketing power that comes with pushing a product as scarce, are trying this distribution model on for size. Today, earrings, garden furniture, and even sandwiches are no longer being launched by brands — they’re being dropped.
There is one obvious reason as to why brands are tweaking their sales strategies to look more like that of a streetwear startup than a regular old direct-to-consumer brand: it makes things sell.
Weird, wonderful and limited-edition products get people talking and, more importantly, handing over their money. When ice cream brand Van Leeuwen debuted its Kraft Mac & Cheese collab in July, the 6,000 pints sold out in just one hour. MSCHF, a company whose reason for existence is to make and sell viral products, has seen its wares sell out in less than a minute.
“Any company that does a ‘drop’ is using it as a marketing tool,” says Conor Robbins, MSCHF’s head of distribution. “We are a unique beast in that everything we do is a drop. For us, it genuinely is our business model and so there’s a balance of making sure some of them make money versus some of them which are just done because we think they’re cool and they help the brand.”
The model can also solve some practical concerns young brands have. Selling products in limited quantities can alleviate any supply challenges a brand might be facing, turning cash flow constraints into FOMO generators.
For Last Crumb, drops have been a helpful mechanism to keep customers interested while it works on upping production capacity. “We never intended to be a drop company,” says Jung. “Drops were just a really good vehicle for us to execute given the parameters and constraints that we had.”
Brands are also using drops as a way to strike up a direct conversation with customers — enabling them to reduce their reliance on Facebook and Instagram ads, which are becoming less effective thanks to recent iOS updates from Apple. Jung says that the only way to get notified about an upcoming Last Crumb drop is to sign up to its mailing list; the company now has a waitlist of over 100,000 subscribers.
In April, furniture brand Outer asked customers to hand over their email addresses in order to find out about its upcoming furniture drop. Here, the term “drop” was used to refer to 50 sets of furniture that were being sold prior to the collection being released to the general public. They sold out in 48 hours, according to Adweek.
Products that sell well using the drop model tend to have some element of built-in virality.
This quality could be to do to the one-off nature of a product, a strategy employed by vinegar brand Acid League, with its “experimental editions”, or Paynter, which sells limited-edition jackets using a pre-sale model.
But if a brand is selling the same product over and over again — as in the case of Last Crumb and headphone brand Nothing — a little bit more work needs to go into making sure the excitement sticks around.
Last Crumb has approached this challenge by making sure that people who buy their cookie boxes want to tell the world about it. They arrive at consumers’ doors with the same fanfare as an item of luxury clothing — a massive, sleek black box is opened to reveal 12 fully-loaded, individually wrapped cookies inside. The cookies themselves have cheeky names: Netflix and Crunch is stuffed with cinnamon and sugar, The Madonna is a salty, peanut-buttery recipe. It’s an unboxing experience that has earned it 19.1 million views on TikTok.
Jung says Last Crumb also has 84 more cookie recipes up its sleeves in case people start to get bored with its original 12.
With brands like MSCHF convincing people to hand over their money and personal data for things like chicken-shaped bongs and AI-generated foot pics, brands could be forgiven for thinking that simply saying the word “drop” could make their products sell out.
But the drop model is not a risk-free endeavor. If a brand doesn’t quite strike the right tone, they may end up stuck with the stock they tried to convince customers they’d only have one chance to buy.
The products best-suited to this sales strategy, Robbins says, are ones that genuinely have a reason behind their scarcity. Last Crumb can’t make enough cookies; MSCHF considers its products to be art pieces. Two very different reasons, but both are fair justifications for letting items sell out.
“When you categorize the businesses that are succeeding at this, it’s often not normal business models in the sense that we have one standalone product or a recurring entity,” Robbins explains. “Having new things coming out is what keeps you relevant, and making sure there are these continued storylines and that fans are being fed with new concepts.”
The tech that many brands use to run their e-commerce operations is also not necessarily best suited to running product drops. Jung says that he has noticed that people using Apple Pay to purchase their orders tend to get hold of Last Crumb’s cookie boxes first — his theory is that Shopify Pay isn’t quite as fast.
Other glitches can include customers getting ahold of multiple boxes of cookies (Last Crumb tries to limit purchases to one per customer) because their basket from a previous attempt hasn’t been cleared. In these cases, Last Crumb will reach out to customers to see if it can put those extra boxes back into its inventory.
Those who miss out on a drop — particularly those who suspect this scarcity is somewhat overly manufactured — don’t always react well. Jung says Last Crumb has been accused of prioritizing gifting cookies to celebrities over serving customers, and that it has also had to deal with irate emails from customers who missed out on cookies. Angry messages exchanged over boxes of cookies have included “FU,” “THIS IS BS,” and “I HATE YOU”, Jung says. “We laugh now, but originally it was stressful.”
Some brands are using the drop term loosely in an attempt to both capitalize on the association with streetwear culture, while at the same time avoiding upsetting customers that have been left empty handed. Nail sticker brand Flowerbed's releases, for example, likely would not fit the definition of a “drop” that other brands are working with — the brand’s cofounder Crimson Dunstan says the company plans to “keep topping up” its collection of nail art designs, so customers are “able to reorder as they please.” “We don’t want to be selling out and leaving customers hanging,” she adds.
As with any marketing tactic employed by brands, the more popular it gets, the more likely customers are to start rolling their eyes when they see it pop up again. Even those who have pioneered the concept are starting to become turned off by its overuse. “I feel like it’s becoming this cringe-y word in the consumer space,” Robbins says. “People roll out things and call them drops, but it’s just a new product.”
It will be up to customers to decide what qualifies as a drop or not. Jung jokes that for Last Crumb, the true test will be whether or not it can enter the resale market. “Our dream is that someone will sell a box of our cookies on StockX,” he says. “The thing is, they’d have to give up their box of cookies.”