Death before disco and the value of storytelling

I was trying to think of a way to illustrate how storytelling can actually increase the asking price of an item. I thought about luxury brands with a long and well-journaled history (think Mercedes Benz or Rolex). But I opted instead for the story of a sweatshirt.

Death Before Disco

There is a part of the movie Stripes where the platoon of Army misfits has just been hauled back to base by the military police after an ill-conceived trip to a local mud wrestling establishment. In the ensuing scene, the ragtag group stands in line in their civilian clothes as the commanding officer berates them. One of the characters (Judge Reinhold) has on sunglasses and a sweatshirt that reads “Death Before Disco”. I remember the first time I saw the movie. I laughed out loud when I saw that sweatshirt.

Fast forward over 30 years later when my twenty-something son walks in the house wearing the very same “Death Before Disco” sweatshirt. I nearly fell out of my chair laughing.

How something ordinary can be assigned extraordinary value

The “Death Before Disco” sweatshirt is really not that special when you examine it unemotionally. It’s an average quality grey sweatshirt. It’s not really designed well - the words are set in rather plain letters, and not kerned particularly well.

Yet, my son paid four to five times what a similar grey sweatshirt would have cost (without the saying on the front). Why? Because it had a story attached to it.

If someone sees you wearing it and recognizes the reference to Stripes, then you share one of those “we-both-know” moments. The sweatshirt says something about your kitschy, retro sensibility and your sense of humor.

Even if someone doesn’t recognize the reference, it's quirky enough that that person may ask about it. In that case, you get to tell the story of it.

Is that worth a four to five times multiple? Absolutely.

When you create something that gives people an opportunity to share a story, you create extraordinary value. I’m not talking about value that’s measured in warm, fuzzy feelings. I’m talking about boosting the asking price of products and services. And still leaving people feeling like they got an incredible value.

People will laugh and comment on that sweatshirt every time my son wears it. Did he have to pay a premium for that? My son will tell you that the sweatshirt was a bargain.

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