When Products Become Legends

Mashable has a great article out now about a noble quest: a documentary team is leading an expedition into the New Mexico desert to see if there is any truth to the myth that video game maker Atari buried almost 4 million copies of their terrible game, E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial. If this is indeed what happened, it means that Atari spent millions on this failure of a game and then realized that their last alternative was to bury their shame in the New Mexico desert.

Now let’s jump to the most impressive part of this whole ordeal: Atari released this game in 1982 and, if the rumors are correct, this games were buried in 1983. It has been 30 years, an impressive lifespan for such a terrible game. In fact, according to this AP article, one of the reasons the film crew is even being allowed to do this excavation is because the town’s commissioner recalls playing the game and can vividly remember just how terrible it was.

I recently blogged about choosing promotional products that last, but what about those that take on a life of their own? What about those items that become their own versions of Willy Wonka’s golden ticket? Like the Beanie Babies that can go for thousands simply because of a speling error or Pokemon cards that are made extra rare because they are extra shiny.

What traits do both these mythical products, both the failures and successes, share? And, perhaps more importantly, how can this translate into your everyday product choices? I’m sure entire disserations can be written on the nuances, but I’ve chosen my top three traits.

1. There is an urban myth: The Atari  game is the best example of this. The story has lasted as long as it has because it has an urban myth attached to it.There have been plenty of terrible games releases since 1982 but very few have reached these levels of cult notoriety. The possibly buried games have stayed in the limelight for such a long just because their is a possibility that they exist. While you may not be able to create an urban myth immediately on an item you choose, you could always choose a product that hints at an urban myth you can relate to your event or company. After all, most people who go searching for the Loch Ness Monster come back with no proof but some awesome souvenirs.

2. There is rarity: A rare Superman comic found in the insulation of a dilapted house sold for over $100,000; there’s a reason people are willing to spend money of the first editions of old books. People love the idea of having something rare, something not easily attained or available in small quantities. On a broader scale, think of the collaborations that Target does with big name designers: their recent collaboration with Prabal Gurung sold out one day after it was released. Items that were reasonably priced in store were going for double or triple their retail value online. So think of your wording: perhaps phrases like “limited edition” will help make your item the next hot commodity; consider working with local artists to add a touch of exclusivity to your design.

3. There is a feeling that it was worth it: This last point ties closely to rarity. Imagine now that the film crew looking for the buried Atari games does come across them, I imagine there will be both a feeling of deep satisfaction and immense relief that the journey actually produced results. Back to the Target collaboration example from point two, the Prabal Gurung collection allowed people to enjoy clothing by this famous designer who under other circumstances they probably could not afford or find. The lesson here is: make it worth their while. If people stand in line at your tradeshow, give them a sense of satisfaction that it was worth the wait, make the item worth the cost.

Are there any other traits that you would add to this list? And let me know if anyone has actually played the E.T. Atari game, I’ll be waiting with baited breath to see if they do find anything in the desert!

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