Really great soundbite from Design Anthropologist, Dori Tunrstall taken from the book Brand Thinking. The book is a sort of compilation of interviews with leading thinkers across a wide variety of fields about their thoughts on branding and design. Dori’s comments on the ritualization of buying were of most interest to me:
We almost always used “things” as a way to identify ourselves and to identify others. Let’s start with the human body. In traditional cultures, the art of tattooing was about social coding. A certain number of tattoos meant you’ve been married. Another number of tattoos meant that you’ve had children. This many tattoos meant that you’ve killed a lion.
Nowadays, we have a tremendous emphasis on dress and makeup and in our rituals of buying. I use the word “rituals” very specifically. But our rituals of consumption are no longer as satisfactory to us … because they are empty of human relationships.
There was recently a wonderful study done on garage sales. When people go to a garage sale to buy something, they actually feel very satisfied about the interaction. Most of the time, it’s because the object they buy comes with a story—a very real, personal story about where the object fit into someone’s life.
Whether it’s real or not, you connect with that person through the object. So when you take the object, your purchase of it is more satisfactory. Whereas right now, when you go now to a store, there seems to be a lot of emphasis on branding that tells authentic stories in order to … sell more stuff.
Dori’s last part about the derivation of meaning through purchases is supported by Rob Walker’s Significant Objects experiment performed a few years back. In it, he purchased a number of thrift store trinkets for an average of $1.25 each.
Those objects were then listed on eBay, but in place of the item description he included a short fictional story about the object written by one of numerous professional writers. Some of the stories described the objects role in a crime or historical event, others about their role in rituals or as good luck charms, etc.
In the end, the objects sold for a total of over $8,000, signifying the importance of story and, by extension, meaning, in the purchase experience.