The value of story? About 2,776%


We’re always talking about how important a story is in marketing — but now someone has finally proven it with an ingenious experiment.

As summarised in a recent DoubleThink post, the experiment (by New York Times columnist Rob Walker) is called Significant Objects and the idea is really simple:

  • Buy cheap things on eBay
  • Give each one to a writer and ask them to tell a story about it
  • Put each item back on eBay with the story attached
  • Analyze the data

So, what’s a story worth? Quite a lot as it happens. The first 100 objects sold were bought for $120 and sold for $3,612 — a markup of 2,776%. The video of Rob Walker presenting the experiment at the PSFK conference is here.

And take a few minutes to browse around DoubleThink, an excellent blog on ‘Insight, Analytics and new Marketing’  by Dimitri Maex and Colin Mitchell, top strategists at Ogilvy.


Loved the conclusion reached, noted on the DoubleThink site you linked to: “the object was merely the vehicle for the story.” Isn’t that what branding has always been about?

Me too. So ‘Delta Force Kill VI’ isn’t a Steven Segal vehicle. Steven Segal is a ‘Delta Force Kill VI’ vehicle.

Great experiment – of course, I presume his friends and writers, etc produced their stories for free as part of the experiment.
Would be interesting to know which stories resulted in the highest sale price increase – and how much the writer would have charged for their work if it had to be paid for. You’d then get a measure of true impact on net profit. Still, would be great it you could charge for content/story creation based upon a track record of proven impact on net income 😉

All good points Andrew.
You can access the data on the Significant Objects site.
I don’t think they factored in story-creation costs.

I’d love to see the equivalent experiment but instead of adding a story related to the object, just add a really compelling description of the object. Then we’d see the value of words, removing the celebrity writer and novelty factors.

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