When I was a graduate student at the University of Chicago, my girlfriend and I used to walk home at night past a jewelry story that had a little note pinned in the window: “all our jewelry made by elves as we sleep. The store was dark but at the very back was a little lamp burning.
If you stared long and hard enough, as my girl friend and I sometimes did, you could begin to see the elves at work. I remember saying to Jane, “is this not the very best way to sell jewelry? to which her silent reply was, I believe, “so buy me some. This was my introduction (post childhood) to the power of mystery as sales technique.
Yesterday, I noted how Minus 8 vinegar creates scarcity. Today, I want to show how it creates mystery.
Minus 8 vinegar is made by a couple who work hard to protect their anonymity. (The CBC is waiting to see if they are willing to participate in the story.) Not quite elves creating jewelry but something close.
This anonymity, and the obscure and secret details of Minus 8 production, help create a sense of specialness about the brand. Consumers want it more, not less, because it is so produced.
This marks a movement away from the traditional bargain created by capitalism. Boomer readers will remember those charming (and endless) documentaries that showed footage of the production line. Companies staged factory visits. “Look, was the message, “nothing to hide! We want you to see where the product come from and the pains we take to make production immaculate.”
Now, we say, “how dreary. We want things from sources secret and mysterious. Jewelry and even vinegar.
The deeper trend is clear. We are no longer enamored of our once vaunted rationalism and its promise that darkness, confusion, uncertainty would be burned away by the clear light of reason. We declared war, in fact, on mystery. Mystery was the locus of mischief, confusion or evil.
With reason installed (relatively speaking) as the great feature of a modernist society, we began to pine for the old days. Those superstitions and fairy tales, now scorned, were remembered and revived. New age practices became popular. (I still remember a relatively intelligent woman from the Midwest telling me that my balding pattern was proof of my descent from the Pharaohs.) In sum, we made the world a kinder, gentler place by readmitting mystery and magic and folk beliefs. (As I say in Transformation, no one ever seems to discover that they are the reincarnates of a stupid, cruel, tubercular char women living with 5 kids in the grinding poverty of an 18th century slum. Better to think of ourselves as Pharaohs.)
Capitalism will respond to this as it responds to the scarcity challenge. This is a cultural meaning it can and will invest in our consumer goods. It will be a challenge of course. Most marketers do not rely on elves to help out around the office. But if consumers want a “reenchantment of the world, thats exactly what theyll get.
There is an early post that is germane here. If you’re interested, have a look for the one called “Tag, we’re it.”