Some years ago an anthropologist and a writer teamed up on the Significant Objects project. They visited local thrift stores, buying 129 objects, each valued no more than $2.
They invited professional fiction writers to create short fictional stories about each object. For example, author Mimi Lipson wrote about a mug with the word “Halston” on the lower edge:
Halston was having a birthday party for the Dupont twins, so I glued myself together and cabbed to the Pierre to pick up Bianca ($5). She’s still mad at Victor about the sweater, but I think it’s really because she found out that he went to Mick and Jerry’s black-and-white party at Mr. Chow’s. Bianca’s [posterior] is really getting too wide to wear Halston.
Armed with stories, the experimenters sold $128.74 worth of thrift-store junk for $3,612.51. The mug, bought for thirty-nine cents, went for $31.00.
Of course the stories were revealed as fictional. Buyers received the object they purchased, along with a copy of the story.
The authors catalogued the results in detail on the website.
What We Can Learn From This Project
Unlike these writers, business owners and marketers can’t invent histories and stories about what they sell. But you can let your imagination roam freely as you focus on how objects might be used.
“This coffee was made for meeting your friends for intimate conversations. The hearty flavor encourages you to linger over a second cup as you bond even more deeply…”
The most difficult copywriting? Finding a home for a full-grown stray cat, especially one with issues.
When I was trying to give away a cat who hated other animals, another copywriter gave me a story idea:
This beautiful girl is perfect for busy people who want a gorgeous tabby with a heart-melting purr (I can’t think of a better pick-me-up after a long day at the office), but is completely fine to relax at home while you’re out.
This cat loves her solitude so much that other cats, young kids, and dogs would be a deal-breaker. She’s had a rough life so a gentle, quiet home would be perfect for her. She’s a bit of an escape artist so you need screens on the windows and a door that stays closed.
This kitty (I’d named her Miss Crankypants) found a wonderful home with a musician who had an extra room. She could enjoy her solitude all day long.
Home owners and real estate pros tell stories that allow prospective buyers to imagine themselves in the home.
“Imagine having breakfast in this sunny area near the window …and then going to your home office in this lovely room overlooking the garden, where your enthusiasm will lead you to write brilliant stories and design one-of-a-kind programs…”
I’ve seen copy for a VIP day “You get picked up in a limo and you go to my office with a magnificent view. For lunch we can order something special or go to one of the delightful cafes where we can sit outside all year round…”
Those images wake up the reader’s senses. They invite prospects to join you on the journey so they can experience transformation — the reason they’re reaching out to work with you.
I’m Cathy Goodwin, Ph.D., a copywriter, storyteller and small business branding strategist. I would love to connect with you. If you are a service-based business seeking to differentiate yourself in the marketplace, check out my comprehensive workbook “From Story To Standout Brand: Your 3-Step Blueprint.” Discover how your personal brand helps you create compelling copy, strengthen your message and establishes your consistent, memorable presence online.
*** “Everything’s easier when you do it with stories.”***