163: Why Auctioneers Should Be Careful with #AuctionsWork (Part 1)
Sports Talk radio regularly includes variations on the above commercial. Every time I hear it, I laugh. I respect Johnny Bench, but the second-to-last line gets me: “And you won’t stink!”
Though it’s probably meant as a poke at Ben Gay and other joint relief creams, it also seems like an insecure proposition. Can you imagine if this were a closing line in an online dating profile or résumé? “And I won’t stink!” (That should be a given, by the way.)
You can learn a lot about a product or service by how it’s marketed: its brand position, its value proposition, its intended audience, its aspirational appeal, and more. You can even tell when the advertiser is trying to address unfavorable perceptions, or perhaps, when they didn’t focus group an idea enough.
Take, for example, Malaysia’s tourism slogan: “Truly Asia.” Their Asianness isn’t in question. Heck, it’s the only country of the fifty nations in Asia that has a[y]sia in its name. For whatever reason, they are spending their marketing dollars trying to convince the world what continent and culture they are—when we already know. Their travel website, by the way, has much better slogans: “Immerse Yourself in Wonder,” and “A Land of Unforgettable Experiences.”
For the last several years, auctioneers have been posting their own versions of “You won’t stink!” and “Truly Asia” on Facebook. First it started in memes, comparing auctions to tag sales (yard sales on steroids). Now, it’s in the captions for a lot of pictures from auction professionals around the country.
It’s such an odd assertion.
When we walk into Walmart or Target, there’s no sign that says, “Retail works!” When we’re scrolling through Amazon, there’s no banner that says, “Online buying works!” Likewise, auto dealers don’t push “Dealerships work!” in their social media.
Of course, auctions work.
Perhaps not all the time and not for every situation or asset, but auctions have been a viable part of our culture for at least two centuries. A decade ago, the MORPACE survey estimated the annual sales from auctions in America to be $257 billion. Though that number seems high to me, even a small fraction of that number speaks to the credibility of auctions. To put that number in perspective, the U.S. film industry by comparison grossed $88 billion last year.
I checked: there’s no sign at my local cinema that says, “#MoviesWork.”
I’m not quite sure who #AuctionsWork is meant to convince: the general public or the auction practitioners. Industry spokespeople will say that the message is for consumers, but a hashtag won’t persuade a reluctant seller or buyer. If we want to win over the auction skeptics and agnostics in culture, we must leverage sales results and statistics, anecdotes and testimonials.
If auctions are the most transparent way to sell something, we must prove it.
If auctions are the fastest way to liquidate assets, we must prove it.
If auctions obtain the truest market value for assets, we must prove it.
If auctions generate superlative buzz and competition compared to other sales methods, we must prove it.
If we—individually and collectively as an auction community—can’t prove that auctions work, maybe we should stop regurgitating cliches about them.
You know who doesn’t use #AuctionsWork? Ritchie Brothers, Christie’s, Barrett Jackson, Sotheby’s, and eBay. They don’t need it. Neither do we.
While potty training children, parents inherently celebrate their child’s journey through the process. There are prizes and clapping and some version of “Yay!” Gradually, the rewards and celebration wane as the expectations of the child changes. In the vast majority of situations, parents are not congratulating their middle schoolers or college students for not needing a diaper. There are no graduation photos captioned with #pottytrainingworks.
The auction industry is past the Pull-Ups phase. We’re a vital, integral part of the economy; and we’re here to stay. It’s time we started acting like it. It’s time we stopped trying to convince ourselves that a hashtag proves our value to consumers. It’s time we out-marketed and outsold our competition, leaving them to wonder if their marketing methods work.
Special thanks to Gillian Zimmerman for her freelance editing help on this post!