Mental Accounting

Accounting is the profession of adding up money.  Accounting records are among our oldest.  Clay tablets recording Ahmet’s twenty bales of hay is among the oldest writing we have.  Keeping track of our money has always been important.  How could something so old be improved?

Within the last century a new kind of accounting has emerged.  It’s the kind of accounting that looks at the brain as real estate.  My brain.  Your brain.  Everyone’s brain.

Here’s how it works.  If you owned a piece of land in the desert, it would only be worth as much as you paid for it.  If no one else visited, or wanted it for any reason, it wouldn’t be worth much.

If you owned a piece of land in the center of Tokyo, then you would have something of great value.  Some land in Tokyo goes for as much as a million dollars a square meter.  That’s the same area you make when you twirl in a circle with your arms outstretched.  Many people want that land.

It turns out that inside our heads we also have real estate.  Today we call them “brands.”  A brand is something that a company owns and can put a dollar value upon.  Donald Trump isn’t only a person, he’s a brand.  Even the President of the United States is a kind of brand, not only as a person, but as an occupant of the office.

A search for popular brands comes up with this file.  It lists them by companies, but if you look for individual brands they are harder to find.  For instance, Disney is extremely popular, but how popular is Mickey Mouse alone?  What about the actor Harrison Ford?  I read that this last Star Wars movie makes him today’s most expensive actor.  That’s because he’s not only an actor, he’s a brand.  And you can take that to the bank.  Or, more exactly, HE can take that to the bank.

The reason he can bank his own brand is because you and I know who he is.  He occupies a little piece of our brain.

It’s possible that you may never have heard of him, but unlikely if you live in the US.

It’s possible you know more about him than just his name.  For instance, he’s also a pilot.

It’s possible you know very much about him: his birthday, his family, even his favorite color.

In any case, you have dedicated some amount of your own mental landscape to the brand of Harrison Ford.  The more of your brain you have given to him, the more his brand is worth.

So Disney was willing to pay billions of dollars for Star Wars because so many people already have the story inside their heads.

Disney itself is worth so many hundreds of billions of dollars because it has billions of heads filled with all of its storied brands: Mickey and Minney Mouse, all the Pixar characters, its entertainment parks, video broadcast companies, and so much more.

What other kinds of “brands” can we consider within our brains?  Concepts that aren’t so directly entertaining or profitable?

Consider these unconventional brands: Like the concepts of good and evil?  Right and Wrong?  The First Amendment of the US Constitution?  What about democracy in general?

How much of your mind is devoted to understanding nature, or working to fight things like injustice or hate?

Now that we can start accounting for what’s in our minds, let’s be honest with ourselves.  Which is more valuable to you: True Love, or Star Wars?  They are both “brands” and they both occupy some of your brain space.

I’m willing to bet you a lottery ticket that I know the answer.

 

 

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