Price Change from $45 to $200,000,000: The Value of a Brand Part 1.


Tim J. Smith, PhD
Founder and CEO, Wiglaf Pricing

Published August 3, 2010

How much is a brand worth?  For Rick Norsigian, a garage sale hunter and public school building painter, it represents the difference between a $45 set of nice glass negative plates and a rare $200 MM find of Ansel Adams’ art.

While an expert group consisting of a photographer, art advisor, and handwriting analyst concluded that the glass negative plates were the work of Ansel Adams, Bill Turnage remains unconvinced of this pedigree.  If the artist pedigree is sustained, Mr. Norsigian’s rummage purchase is converted into a high-value trove.  If not, it remains a pile of pretty decorations.

The difference between a pile of glass and treasure trove is no more than a brand.  Does it get an Ansel Adams’ brand designation or not? If so, the value shoots up.  If not, it remains at garage sale levels.

It is important to realize that there is no difference in the imagery between the two brand designations.  In both cases, the glass plates are the same glass plates, the negatives are the same negatives, and the images that could be printed from the plates are the same images.  Hence, the shadows, lines, emotions, and ability to communicate a concept between the artist and the viewer remain relatively consistent regardless of the brand designation.  Therefore, the difference in the valuations should be attributed directly to the brand association and nothing more.

It is not uncommon for the valuation of a piece of art to be related to the name of the artist that made it, it is not uncommon for prices on works of art to increase dramatically upon the death of an artist, and it is not uncommon for star artist to sell similar items for far more than other artists.  The valuation of Duchamp’s Fountain has sealed our acceptance that the specific maker’s hand influences the item’s value.  In fact, these truths define the current art market.  Likewise, this instance of pricing a set of negatives does demonstrate the value of a brand.

For Rick Norsigian, the ability to designate the Ansel Adams brand to glass negative plates represents the difference between $45 and $200 MM.  Simply put, brands have real value.


Lauren A.E. Schuker, “Ansel Adams Trove or Pile of Glass,” The Wall Street Journal, (28 July 2010).

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About The Author

Tim J. Smith, PhD, is the founder and CEO of Wiglaf Pricing, an Adjunct Professor of Marketing and Economics at DePaul University, and the author of Pricing Done Right (Wiley 2016) and Pricing Strategy (Cengage 2012). At Wiglaf Pricing, Tim leads client engagements. Smith’s popular business book, Pricing Done Right: The Pricing Framework Proven Successful by the World’s Most Profitable Companies, was noted by Dennis Stone, CEO of Overhead Door Corp, as "Essential reading… While many books cover the concepts of pricing, Pricing Done Right goes the additional step of applying the concepts in the real world." Tim’s textbook, Pricing Strategy: Setting Price Levels, Managing Price Discounts, & Establishing Price Structures, has been described by independent reviewers as “the most comprehensive pricing strategy book” on the market. As well as serving as the Academic Advisor to the Professional Pricing Society’s Certified Pricing Professional program, Tim is a member of the American Marketing Association and American Physical Society. He holds a BS in Physics and Chemistry from Southern Methodist University, a BA in Mathematics from Southern Methodist University, a PhD in Physical Chemistry from the University of Chicago, and an MBA with high honors in Strategy and Marketing from the University of Chicago GSB.