Farnam Street helps you make better decisions, innovate, and avoid stupidity.

With over 400,000 monthly readers and more than 93,000 subscribers to our popular weekly digest, we've become an online intellectual hub.

Would You Pay More For Jon Voight’s Car?

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.

Continue Reading

Read what you’ve been missing. Subscribe to Farnam Street via Email, RSS, or Twitter.

Shop at Amazon.com and support Farnam Street.