163: Why Auctioneers Should Be Careful with Auction Hash Tags (Part 2)

Spring of 2015 was a crazy time for art auctions. In New York alone, auction houses sold $2.3 billion in art.1 There seemed to be a lot of high-profile pieces or collections in the news; and the all-time auction record for art was set, when $179.4 million was the high bid for a Picasso. Many within the auction industry justifiably bragged about the auction method with multiple Facebook posts sharing these jaw-dropping events and transactions.

Predictably, bid callers added the hashtag #OnlyAtAuction to their posts and comments. Like its newer and less-superlative brother, #AuctionsWork, the tag line held the hopes of auction marketers, trying to make hay on headlines. Even a strong, thriving industry hoped to gain more credibility and consideration from onlookers—a worthy goal, for sure.

Pollack Record PaintingFast forward a few months, however; and that record got absolutely demolished. In case you missed it, Ken Griffin, a Chicago-based hedge fund manager, bought two paintings for a combined total of $500 million.

You read that correctly: half a billion dollars. That’s billion—with a b.

Griffin paid $300 million for a Jackson Pollock painting. That’s almost six times the auction record for a Pollock piece, which was set in 2013 at $58.3 million. Along with the Pollock, he also paid $200 million for a Willem de Kooning painting—almost seven times the auction record for a de Kooning piece, also set in 2013. 2

In related news, the current auction record price for a car is $38.1 million, set in 2014 for a Ferrari GTO. That’s definitely impressive—almost as astonishing as another Ferrari GTO that sold privately for $52 million in 2013. The world record for a private residence sold via traditional brokerage is now $301 million. That, too, proves multiple times the auction record for its asset category.

While I was scouring the Internet for this data, I searched and found neither #OnlyWithDealers nor #OnlyThroughBrokerage on Twitter. Same goes for #BrokerageWorks.

Perhaps these successful, professional marketers realize that our culture understands the value of both dealers and brokers. And perhaps auctioneers should follow their lead. It would be in our industry’s best interest, if we did.

If we keep telling consumers that things happen #OnlyAtAuction; and then they happen just as successfully (if not, sometimes, more successfully) without auction, then our claims ring hollow. When sellers see that #AuctionsWork but that sometimes other kinds of transactions #WorkBetter, we invite added comparison. Auctions often win those comparisons, but we can’t pretend that sometimes they don’t.

When we sell clichés instead of solutions, we lose credibility. Lean on empty rhetoric too much, and the industry gets a stigma . . . like the ones we currently battle: that auctions are only for fire sales and distress situations, that auctions are a last resort.

Rather than beating the drum of auctions, we need to pound the message of marketing. No matter how the transaction is conducted, the marketing that brings the buyer to an auction or to a listing or to a dealer is pretty much the same. Savvy marketers know to determine the likely buyer and then build a campaign of the multiple media, public relations efforts, and/or interpersonal interactions that are most likely to attract those potential buyers. When we in the auction community consult with sellers, we need to show them the advantages and disadvantages of each sales method—and then offer to help them with the one that best solves their situation.

Most of my largest clients offer their sellers multiple options, whether that’s buyouts, consignments, brokerage, or one of several kinds of auction. This gives them credibility. That lets the seller know that the marketer is more concerned about the seller’s gain than the auctioneer’s affinity for bid calling.

What will promote our industry best is the cumulative effort of professional auctioneers marketing their sellers’ wares in the best way possible. We don’t need hashtags or slogans to do that. We need more candor and flexibility—and a lot less ego and insecurity. In the end, our results will earn us a platform for competitive viability.

Painting image linked to source.
Stock image purchased from iStockPhoto.com.

1. “New York’s Auction Houses Just Sold $2.3 Billion Worth of Art” by Valetta Zarya, fortune.com
2. “Billionaire Art Collector Ken Griffin Spends $500 Million on Two Paintings by Rain Embuscado, news.artnet.com

1 comment

  • Timothy

    Very well thought out and very well written. Words are extremely powerful, even if they’re bunched together and preceded by a hashtag.

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