Illustrating brand power
Let's say you're turning forty today, and in honor of your birthday, I hand you a beautifully wrapped box. Undoing the paper, you remove a small gray rock. Dull, average, ugly, the sort of rock you might see lying on the side of road. "Thanks a lot," you're thinking. But what if I proceed to tell you that this isn't just any rock you're holding, but a one-of-a-kind rock, a historical symbol, a fragment of the Berlin Wall that was smuggled out of the country days after the wall's destruction in 1989, when East and West Berliners began snatching up chips and chunks of the fallen barrier as keepsakes. You now have in your possession a talisman symbolizing the end of the cold war. "Thanks a lot," you say, this time meaning it. "Anytime," I answer. "Here's to turning forty." A moment goes by. Then I tell you I was just kidding. The rock doesn't come from the Berlin Wall—it's even more exceptional than that. The rock you have in your hand is an authentic moon rock, a chunk of the roughly six ounces of lunar detritus that Neil Armstrong and his fellow astronauts brought back home with them during their 1969 Apollo 11 mission. A moon rock is pretty special. There are a limited number of them in the world. And after all, it comes from the moon. What an exquisite present, you think. You're shocked, genuinely overcome. The fact of the matter is that I found the rock by the side of the road, put it in my pocket, and threw it into a box. Aside from the everyday miracle of geology and tectonic plates and all that, it's just a rock. But once I stamped it with certain properties—historical significance, geological rarity, whatever—it became so much more. In other words, when we brand things, our brains perceive them as more special and valuable than they actually are.