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In 2007, The Washington Post did an experiment on context, perception and priorities in which Joshua Bell, an internationally acclaimed musical virtuoso, stationed himself in the Metro, playing his violin (valued at $4 Million) for passersby. He was perceived as any other bum trying to make a buck in the subway station. You can read the story here.

Immanuel Kant (18th Century German Philosopher) argued that “to properly appreciate beauty, the viewing conditions must be optimal”. In the banal setting of the metro station, while preoccupied with work and life, the brilliance of Bell’s performance was all but lost.

This experiment testifies to the importance of branding. If I took a Jackson Pollock painting, put it on a wall in a high school cafeteria and said my nephew did it, people would think it’s cute. If I show that same painting at the Museum Of Modern Art, where most of them reside, it would have a price tag of around $140 Million (the price David Geffen paid for his). So by this rationale, the environment in which art or talent is displayed has much to do with its perceived value.

The majority of African art, fashion and talent are relegated to flea markets, craft fairs, missions conferences and poorly designed websites and promo materials. This is certainly not an environment to promote beauty and excellence. Consequently, the perceived value of African products is that of inferiority.

If these very same products are showcased in beautiful websites, promotional products, high end magazines like Vogue and Vanity Fair and on celebrities walking the red carpet, it’s a game changer. Instantly the perceived value skyrockets.

Branding is essentially the creation of the environment in which our products or services will be judged.

1 Comment

  1. Georgi on December 7, 2015 at 3:45 PM

    Love this insight….it’s so true. Similarly we see people in our community ignore local artists but stand in line for hours to see exhibits by famous ones, ones that have been approved by critics and dealers. I’ve never considered environment as context and context as being part of the challenge in changing people’s receptiveness, but I can see it’s hugely important for artists, businesses and whole continents. Thanks for this insight, Jared.

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