at the intersection of brands, media and culture

Brand Storytelling, Magical Value and The Magna Carta

In advertising, Brands, communications, Consumers, marketing, strategy, trends on January 8, 2008 at 10:20 am

The New York Times ran a piece in its Sunday Magazine about the sale of a copy of the Magna Carta just before Christmas to the Carlyle group. As it pointed out, it’s fascinating to see anyone paying $21.3 million for a piece of information in a day and age where it could be more easily and legibly accessed through our computers. The price is clearly not about information but rather about a piece of history. A piece of history that becomes more valuable through the fact that we all believe it to be valuable.

“It’s a kind of illusion. We can call it magical value as opposed to meaningful value. It’s like the value acquired by one baseball when Bobby Thomson batted it out of the Polo Grounds. A physical object becomes desirable, precious, almost holy, by common consensus, on account of a history — a story — that is attached to it. (If it turns out you’ve got the wrong baseball, the value vanishes just as magically.)”

This same illusive influence affects brands and products on a daily basis. A brand’s value rises and falls with consumer sentiment. If Sienna Miller wears your jeans and is photographed in InStyle, your brand’s valuation goes up. Your product becomes inherently more stylish, popular and coveted by InStyle’s readers. They may not realize or care that she was paid to wear them; nor does it probably matter much to the score of retailers that are suddenly calling because they want to carry your product. It doesn’t even always matter that the product look good on your consumer, if bebe and Juicy sales are any indication. Your brand suddenly has caché and consumers can have a piece of it stamped on their butts for everyone to see.

Arguments can be made here for any number of heroic brands. What of ipod? Rolex? Burberry? It’s true that owners of all of these brands have a ready, rational response for their purchase which somewhere along the way includes the word quality, but it doesn’t mean that any of them can define quality. And it also doesn’t account for the incredible business that exists down the street selling fake Rolex watches and Burberry purses. It comes down to a collective perception of value rather than the real (in this case, monetary) value.

Organic baby clothing taps into the idea that a good parent wouldn’t clothe their child with pesticides. Victoria’s Secret taps into our imaginary fantasy life. Does Victoria’s Secret have any more real value than Gap Body? It does, because Gap Body makes clothing and Victoria’s Secret makes fantasy. When these stories become circulated we start to see a collective story emerge that consumers tap into and use as repositories for their own hopes, dreams, ambitions and securities creating magical value.

In an age where the unique selling proposition is more elusive, investing and creating magical value can help provide differentiation in a cluttered marketplace.

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