Remember the Seinfeld where George buys Jon Voight’s car? Or the one where Elaine bids on JFK’s golf clubs? 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. [George Newman, Gil Diesendruck and Paul Bloom, "Celebrity Contagion and the Value of Objects"]
In one experiment subjects rated how much they would like to own, say, a watch. Some were told it had belonged to a nobody, others heard it was once a celebrity’s. Study participants rated the same objects as more desirable when they carried the alleged celebrity luster.
Some buyers look at a celebrity’s former possession as an investment. Because they know somebody else will pay even more for it eventually. But other purchasers of objects touched by a famous person are swayed by so-called contagion: the implicit belief that the thing retains some essence or physical trace of the former owner.
In the Seinfeld episode, Elaine got JFK’s golf clubs for $20,000, twice as much as she had been given permission to bid. In an actual auction in 1996 JFK’s clubs went for more than a quarter of a million. Which sounds crazy until you remember that you probably got the bag, too.
[The above text is an exact transcript of this podcast.]