People may (irrationally) value an object more if they believe it was once owned by a celebrity because of an inherent belief that it still carries an essence of physical trace of the famous person. Why would anyone spend money, often a lot of money, on a common object just because somebody famous once owned it? A study in the Journal of Consumer Research offers some insights.
In their first study, the authors asked participants how much they would like to own celebrity and non-celebrity possessions. They asked about well-regarded individuals (like George Clooney) or despised individuals (like Saddam Hussein). They measured the dimensions of contagion, perceived market value, and liking of the individual. “For well-liked celebrities, the primary explanation seemed to be contagion — participants expressed a desire to own some of the individual’s actual physical remnants,” the authors write. In contrast, when the items had belonged to a despised individual, people perceived that the items were potentially valuable to others, but contact with the hated individuals decreased the items’ value.
In a second experiment, participants reported their willingness to purchase a sweater owned by someone famous (well-liked or despised). However, the sweater was “transformed” by sterilization or preventing its resale. For well-liked celebrities sterilizing reduced participants’ willingness to purchase the sweater, while preventing the resale of the item had a comparably minimal effect. “In contrast, for despised individuals, the pattern was the opposite: removing contact only increased the sweater’s value while preventing the sale to others significantly reduced participants’ willingness to purchase it,” the authors conclude.