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10th October 2018 Agency

What Banksy taught us about the power of storytelling

On Friday night last week, one art collector got more than he bargained for when he bid over £1m for one of Banksy’s most famous works – Girl With Balloon. Shortly after the hammer came down, the canvas began to shred itself using a device concealed within the frame.

Banksy – it would appear – is still on top form.

But what about our collector? The buyer was now potentially left with a damaged piece of art which looks far different now to what they were expecting to own. But according to one expert, the art may now be worth double.

Why? Because now, it has a story attached to it.

This is not the first time value has been added to an object thanks to a great story. A project called Significant Objects, devised by Rob Walker and Joshua Glenn, proved the power of storytelling on a buyer’s purchasing decision.

They bought a number of insignificant second-hand items – costing around $1.25 each – and auctioned them off on eBay for a total of $8,000. The perceived value of the items was increased due to the sentimental stories attached to them. The value of a good story should never be underestimated.

But storytelling can go far beyond simply increasing an inanimate object’s value. For brands, it can drive customer loyalty, something far more valuable than the monetary value of one product.

London-based Brompton bikes acknowledges its use of content and social media to drive sales. At the purchasing stage, the company promotes stories to its potential customers about how the bikes are still handmade at its original London location. It plays on the emotions of buyers, showing how each bike is initialed by the person who creates it.

Similarly, Hiut Denim – based in the tiny Welsh town of Cardigan – is now exporting its jeans globally thanks to the power of its storytelling. “Our town is going to make jeans again”, claims the headline on the website, which goes on to explain how 10% of the population in Cardigan used to make jeans. “That’s why we have started The Hiut Denim Company. To bring manufacturing back home. To use all that skill on our doorstep. And to breathe new life into our town.” Each pair of jeans is then signed by the worker who makes them by hand.

It’s a compelling story. Most importantly though, Hiut Denim now exports 25% of its jeans.

Humans have shared stories for centuries, and both Brompton and Hiut Denim’s successes demonstrate the power of those stories. Stories bring together communities through shared values and beliefs, and allow us to connect in a way that simple data and numbers can’t.

So while Banksy’s objective may have been to protest against the sale of one of his pieces, he’s inadvertently doubled its value. Or was it deliberate? Sadly, given Banksy’s elusiveness, this is one story we may not hear the ending of.

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