Monday, 29 May 2017

For what it's worth

I recently visited the Strathisla Whisky Distillery, of Chivas Regal fame, and as well as having a thoroughly enjoyable time, I was reminded of two fundamental truths in Marketing:

- seeing, hearing, experiencing how food and drink is crafted can all add further enjoyment to the consumption of  that food or drink
- knowing the story behind a product or brand can add greatly to its perceived value

These truths are known by most marketers intuitively, and we can all back up our assertions with any number of examples or personal experiences.

I was interested to find a 'literary and anthropological experiment' which has sought to value the effect of storytelling on the value of objects. The experiment was started around 10 years ago, and is called Significant Objects. The experiment - which has taken on a life beyond the initial round - was conceived by journalist and author Rob Walker and Joshua Glenn, who conclude that: Stories are such a powerful driver of emotional value that their effect on any given object's subjective value can actually be measured objectively.

What the experimenters did was to buy a load of jumble-sale bric-a-brac, then give a number of writers a piece to write a short story or flash fiction about. The objects were then put on ebay, together with the accompanying story.

You can see the objects on the website, divided into 'significant' categories - Fossils, Talismans, Idols, Totems, Evidence. There's all manner of tat, from a Charlie's Angels thermos to a lighter in the shape of a pool ball. And the stories range from 6 words to minor epics.

In the first round of the experiment, the experimenters sold items that had cost $128 for $3612.

Now, I know you can pick holes in this. The stories were fiction, and were clearly marked as such. Would true stories about the objects, well-written have had the same effect? Did the well-known status of some of the authors have an influence? Was there knowledge that the proceeds would be going to charity? Was there a word-of-mouth element amongst the experimenters' literary and journalistic friends and contacts?

Still, you have to admire a writer who can raise the value of a 'mystery object' from 99c right up to $103.50.


Barbara Fisher said...

Hi Sue, next time I list something on eBay I will have to be more ‘creative’ with my description whilst still telling the truth! :)

I’m catching up with everything I missed while on my blogging break.

Sue Imgrund said...

It's worth a go. I'm sure sometimes a 2nd hand book is of more interest (and perhaps worth) if there's an interesting bookplate or a handwritten name at the front - the story behind the story ...