The Secret Contagious Mojo That Makes People Value Stuff Connected To Famous People
from the celebrity-cooties? dept
There is sort of an odd article in the NY Times that looks at some of the psychological research that goes into why people like to own stuff that celebrities owned or touched. The report suggests that it comes back to a subconscious belief in “celebrity contagion” and “imitative magic.” That is, people sense that if they own something that someone famous touched, they somehow get to “capture” some element of that person’s essence. The report covers two separate things. First there is the obsession with owning something someone touched — where it’s noted that people value it less if it’s been washed (highlighting the whole “essence” concept). Second, is a look into why people want to buy exact replicas of a celebrity’s things. For example, the report highlights an exact replica of a famous Eric Clapton guitar. The replica is right down to the specific nicks and scratches on the guitar — even though Clapton has never touched this one. So if it was just “essence” this guitar wouldn’t be valued that highly. And while it’s obviously valued less than the real version it’s based on (which sold for just under a million dollars), it’s expected that the replica will still sell for $20,000. The thinking here is the value of “imitative magic.” That if you have something just like what a famous/successful person had, you’ll be able to get some of the same “magic” powers out of it.
Frankly, some of this sounds pretty ridiculous — a sort of inflated market version of cargo cult science — but if you’re looking to understand the psychology behind people who go to great lengths to feel some sort of connection to celebrities, it seems like worthwhile reading just to understand the underpinnings. Indeed, over the years, we’ve seen artists incorporate this kind of thinking in their own business models. They can often sell off things that they’re closely connected to, for a premium, and the buyers are quite happy. We sometimes hear from our usual critics that these business models involve finding “suckers.” But the buyers don’t seem to feel like suckers, and some of this research seems to explain why.