How storytelling increased the value of an eBay item by 6395%

A wonderful study illustrating the power of storytelling.

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Stories are the most powerful tools at our disposal. Good stories move us emotionally and make us susceptible to buying or doing things we might not otherwise have done.

In 2006, New York Times Magazine journalist Rob Walker set out to determine if storytelling was the most powerful tool of all.

He started his project by collating two hundred thrift items of low value (the average cost of each item was $1.25). He took care to ensure that there was nothing particularly special about any of them.

A plastic banana here. An old wooden mallet there. Even a plastic motel room key. You get the idea. They had no intrinsic value whatsoever.

Next, he telephoned two hundred professional authors and invited them to become part of his ‘Significant Object study’ and asked them if they would each write a story about one of the objects.

They all said “Yes.”

He then auctioned the items on eBay with the stories added to the descriptions. Can you guess what happened?

One of the items was a small plastic bust of a horse’s head. Rob had paid just $0.99 for it. What did it sell for now that it had a great story attached to it?

$62.95.

Was this a one off? Not really. In total, he spent $197 dollars on the items and he ended up selling them for almost $8000. That’s a markup of more than 6300%! And all thanks to the stories which had transformed these otherwise trite objects into things of value.

How is it so easy for us to fall for stories? How could someone part with more than $60 for a secondhand plastic horse’s head that had been bought for less than a dollar?

The simple answer is that they play on our emotions.

When we feel these emotions, we become less objective and critically observant. We become easily duped into buying and doing things we might not do ordinarily.

Rob’s brilliant project is a shining example of the enormous power of storytelling and highlights its importance as a skill worth developing.

For more on this fascinating study check out the Significant Objects website or buy the brilliant book that contains images of the original objects with their accompanying stories.

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