Yahoo! News Columnist and Author of Buying In
Rob Walker writes about technology and culture at Yahoo! and is co-founder of many creative projects. With Joshua Glenn, Walker—a provocative, refreshing voice on technology—is the co-founder of Significant Objects, a widely praised online experiment that seeks to pinpoint what, exactly, makes our material objects valuable to us. Other recent projects include The Hypothetical Development Organization, a public-art project that imagines engaging uses for neglected buildings, which he co-founded.
A book version of Significant Objects, by the same name, has been released.
Significant Objects: Do Good Stories Make Objects More Valuable?
What makes things valuable to us isn't really the thing itself -- it's the thing's story. To explore just how far that point can be taken, Walker co-founded a project, Significant Objects, in which he and his partner bought 100 thrift-store doodads (worthless junk that cost a total of $125) and got a bunch of great writers, like Nicholson Baker and Jonathan Lethem, to make up fictions about each one. They then sold each object, with its "story," on eBay. Result: the flotsam sold for a whopping 2,700% more than they paid for it-- a stunning "significance premium." Along the way, Walker and co. attracted a great deal of attention from the marketing and branding world, which is no surprise, given that they're in the business of telling stories about objects too. But what makes a good story, a valuable story, a story that really adds to a thing's meaning, rather than sets up a false promise that undermines it? In this talk, Walker draws lessons from his project to deliver a powerful keynote on the true nature of value.
What Stories Matter Most to Consumers?
Objects tell stories. And we all tell stories about our objects. But are the stories that brands are telling the stories that consumers want to hear? With many real-world examples, Rob Walker makes some crucial points. First, the story that matters most is the consumer's story-- and how a product or brand fits into it. When the hurricane is coming and you're gathering valuables, you'll take the stuff that means most to your life, not the stuff that had the glitziest ad campaign. For a growing batch of consumers today, the stories they want about products are exactly the ones marketers won't tell-- stories about ingredients and environmental impacts. Brands that can tell these stories honestly have a real opportunity. Finally, and drawing all the above together, the stories that matter are the ones we tell ourselves about ourselves, and brands and products have to fit into that. Too often it works the other way around: We are the best so you should buy our objects. That's not a winning story, because consumers don't care about your brand; they care about themselves. What a brand's story can do, Walker says, is help the consumer tell the self-story he or she wants to tell.
Minnesota Medical Foundation
Rob Walker was great. We enjoyed his presentation and his message was really well received. There was a lot of buzz about his concepts. He got a lot of laughs. I would hire him again. He was so flexible and easy to work with – which is always a treat. Thanks for your help!
Can a great story transform a worthless trinket into a significant object? The Significant Objects project set out to answer that question once and for all, by recruiting a highly impressive crew of creative writers to invent stories about an unimpressive menagerie of items rescued from thrift stores and yard sales.
That secondhand flotsam definitely becomes more valuable: sold on eBay, objects originally picked up for a buck or so sold for thousands of dollars in total—making the project a sensation in the literary blogosphere along the way.
But something else happened, too: The stories created were astonishing, a cavalcade of surprising responses to the challenge of manufacturing significance. Who would have believed that random junk could inspire so much imagination?
The founders of the Significant Objects project, that's who. This book collects 100 of the finest tales from this unprecedented creative experiment; you'll never look at a thrift-store curiosity the same way again.
Buying In: What We Buy and Who We Are
Brands are dead. Advertising no longer works. Consumers are in control. Or so we're told. In Buying In, Rob Walker argues that this accepted wisdom misses a much more important cultural shift, including a practice he calls murketing, in which people create brands of their own and participate, in unprecedented ways, in marketing campaigns for their favorites. Yes, rather than becoming immune to them, we are rapidly embracing brands. Profiling Timberland, American Apparel, Pabst Blue Ribbon, Red Bull, iPod, and Livestrong, among others, Walker demonstrates the ways in which buyers adopt products not just as consumer choices but as conscious expressions of their identities. Part marketing primer, part work of cultural anthropology, Buying In reveals why now, more than ever, we are what we buy—and vice versa.
Letters from New Orleans
In January of 2000, Rob Walker left a high-powered media job in New York, and with his girlfriend, moved to New Orleans. Letters from New Orleans collects, in one volume, the delightful and unsettling observations Walker sent to friends and fans about his intriguing new life in New Orleans.