Bearhavioral Economics

BearI recently worked on an idea based on behavioral economics and personal value (inspired by old childhood toys). I was thinking of the distinction Dan Ariely makes in his book “Predictibly irrational”, between social and market norms. He warns against mixing them, and I suspect that something similar (or perhaps it is in fact the same thing) is true for personal value v.s. market value.

Have you ever tried to buy something on a second hand webshop (Marktplaats is the famous Dutch one), or maybe on an actual flee market (like we have on Queensday – beg pardon, Kingsday), only to find that the previous owner wildly overestimated the value of the item? I remember shopping for a bike, finding a suitable one (no target price), bidding on it with quite a reasonable amount (I had been looking for bikes a lot by that time so I knew exactly what most people asked for them) – only to get my bid removed and an angry reply: ‘Only serious bids!’.

Now, maybe I should have expected this, as the previous owner seemed overly nostalgic in the description of the bike. She didn’t see the rust and flaking paint, the broken lights, she only saw a trusted vehicle that had served her well for years. It is understandable. I think it’s safe to say that most of us have items in our home that are worth more to us – sometimes way more – than their market value. Maybe it’s just an old sock that grandma once made you, maybe it’s a grey teddy-bear, chewed down to the hide. Usually, this is no problem. We can recognize that an old sock means nothing to others.

But if somethings is just on the edge – cherished enough to have personal value, but not enough to decide not to sell it – it can become more difficult. You might lose sight of the items real worth. Another issue is that others can not see how valuable something is to you, especially if it’s just seemingly lying around. I have an army-cap in my room that was once my uncle’s, who died quite young a few years ago. I’ve sometimes had to pluck it from the heads of guests, who tried it on because they thought it looked funny.

So I was thinking of a way to show personal value on items directly, and I chose the teddy-bear to do this. Partly because teddy-bears often gain a lot of value from their owners over their lifetimes, but also because, when I was a child, I loved collecting stuff. I collected merit badges at scouting and started a short-lived collection of swimming certificate badges on my swimsuit. I would have loved to collect badges for my bear.

So the final idea is to create badges that can be ironed on the bear, either on a special patch on its belly or just straight on the stuffed animal itself. You could for instance have one badge per year of ownership (the numbers), and special badges for special ‘achievements’. Examples are: taking the bear on vacation, in bath, swimming, or in an airplane. But also losing the bear and finding it again (always a stressful experience with small children), breaking some part of it and fixing it again, chewing on it, etcetera.

So children can collect badges on their bear, as many as they want, and they have a constant visual reminder of what the bear is worth to thém. Also, other people will know not to touch a bear with lots of badges, as it is clearly a cherished item. As for monetary value… wouldn’t it be funny it after a while, collectors started paying more for bears with rare badges? (if photographic proof of the ‘earning’ of the badge was provided as well, of course) Then, personal value would make the jump to the world of money – and taking your bear on crazy adventures would make it the equivalent of emergency savings.Bear2

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