marketing | May 08, 2011

Rob Walker: Are Brands Telling Us the Stories We Want to Hear?

What makes an object valuable to us isn't really the thing itself, says Rob Walker. It's the thing's story. In his provocative talks, Walker—a contributing writer for The New York Times Magazine—charts the intersection where storytelling meets value. The stories that most brands tell (“We are the best, so you should buy our product!”) are not the stories that consumers want to hear. The stories that truly matter to us are the ones we tell about ourselves—and products have to fit into this narrative. The brands that understand this crucial point have a real opportunity. On stage, Walker discusses 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.
An insightful, sought-after, and often counterintuitive voice on consumerism, branding, and technology, Walker is also the cofounder of Significant Objects, the widely acclaimed web project that recently caught the notice of the marketing and design world. With his partner, Joshua Glenn, Walker wanted to test how much a good story could add to an object’s worth. Together, they bought 100 random thrift store doodads, asked famous writers to make up fictions about each one, and sold them on eBay for an astounding mark up of over 2,700%; the project, now concluded, will be released as a book later this year. On stage, Walker draws in part on this project, as well as on work from his “Consumed” column, to discuss various aspects of pop culture, consumption, and the ever-shifting point where branded messages and products meet the consumer.

Above is a video of Rob Walker’s appearance in the design documentary Objectified.

Read more about branding speaker Rob Walker