Rafi Mohammed

Eric Clapton and Value

Posted on March 15th, 2011 (1 Comments)

The value that people place on products and services is difficult to predict let alone understand. What’s your favorite product? Would your close friend (who presumably shares similar characteristics with you) pay as much for this product as you would? It’s doubtful. As I opined in The Art of Pricing, “value is in the eye of the beholder” or viewed a bit more cynically, to quote P.T. Barnum, “There’s a sucker born every minute.”

A recent New York Times article (“Urge to Own That Clapton Guitar is Contagious Scientists Find” by John Tierney) discussed a few academic articles on value that we place on celebrity-related merchandise. Some of these academic findings were obvious. For instance, here’s a quote from Yale professor Paul Bloom, “Our results suggest that physical contact with a celebrity boosts the value of an object, so people will pay extra for a guitar that Eric Clapton played, or even held in his hands.”

As a sidebar, if you are a Bruce Springsteen fan like I am, the Boss’ first car – a 1957 Chevy Bel Air convertible is currently up for auction. It’s claimed that Mr. Springsteen wrote several of his classic hits in this car including “Born to Run.” Bids start at $390,000.

The New York Times article did have a fascinating discussion on the value of replicas. A replica of Eric Clapton’s famous Fender Stratocaster “Blackie” guitar recently sold for $30,000. What’s interesting is that this replica included the same nicks, scratches, wear from Mr. Clapton’s belt buckle, and burn marks from his cigarettes. Why on earth would someone want, let alone pay $30,000, for all of this “wear and tear” to be deliberately inflicted on a guitar?

Researchers Karen Fernandez and John Lastovicka have an interesting explanation. From interviewing guitar collectors, they discovered many believed that even factory-made replicas had a certain something – a magic or mojo – that enabled them to play better music.

I had to reflect for a few days about this finding and finally it made sense. Replicas are in essence a form of branding. Think about how beers makers market their products. Corona puts you in a beach party frame of mind, Sam Adams reflects a “hand crafted” individualist persona, and Dos Equis intones that by drinking its beer, you magically become interesting. These brands make you feel something and reflect a persona that you are striving for.  

With this in mind, now I can see how playing, say, an Eric Clapton “sanctioned” guitar, could psychologically push someone to play better.

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Readers' Comments on This Blog Entry

From Mary on April 9th, 2011
What constitutes more value is truly in the eye of the beholder. When Imation spun out of 3M in the '90's, it was teaching engineers this lesson. Back when we still used floppy disks instead of thumb drives, Imation could charge 50% more for a box of colored disks than for a box of black disks. And they sold out much faster. I am a huge proponent of designing thoughtful value propositions, but even I would have a hard one crafting that differentiator being worth as much.