Motivating-Uncertainty Effect

Contrary to popular belief, people tend to be more motivated by uncertain rewards than by clear, known rewards. 



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There's a huge disconnect between the Art World and ordinary people.

In a 2016 study, YouGov showed the British public a range of artworks from famous artists and asked them, "Is it art?".

58% said Andy Warhol's Campbell's Soup Cans isn't art.
70% said Mark Rothko's Orange, Red, Yellow isn't art.

And 88% said Marcel Duchamp's Fountain definitely isn't art.

In 2019 in America YouGov Blue did a similar study.

YouGov Blue showed the American public Sam Gilliam’s 1980 drawing Coffee Thyme and asked them, "Is this image art?

38% said Coffee Thyme isn't art and 12% said they were unsure.

MSCHF is a creative collective based in Brooklyn. MSCHF believes that the Art World seems to be more obsessed with "authenticity than aesthetics".

Which may be why Art is now seen by many extravagant Millionaires as an easy investment.

So there's an entire industry that depends on courting super-wealthy Art collectors.

Art Galleries and Auction houses can't survive without wealthy people paying record sums for modern art. But to persuade wealthy people they obviously can't sell fake paintings.

That's where forensic and investigative conservation experts come in. These folks track the origins, previous owners and authenticity of a particular piece. So they can sign a certificate of authenticity.

Recently, MSCHF bought an early sketch by Andy Warhol titled "Fairies".

MSCHF bought this 1954 minimalist pen drawing from Hamilton-Selway Fine Art in Los Angeles. And they paid $20.000 for it.

Then MSCHF did something totally crazy.

MSCHF hand-built a robot to create 999 forgeries.

Next MSCHF artificially aged and stained each one of them.

Then they mixed the original Warhol randomly into a stack of 999 forgeries.

They called it “Possibly Real Copy of Fairies by Andy Warhol" and put 1000 copies for sale online for $250 each.

MSCHF started selling these forgeries on Monday 25th October 2021.  

Don't laugh, because they sold out quickly.

What this means is MSCHF turned a $20k Andy Warhol drawing into $250.000. A quarter of a million bucks is a lot of money, but obviously this wasn’t really their point.

It’s true that buyers will never really know if they actually bought the original Warhol.

In fact, each buyer has a 0.1% chance of owning the original Warhol.

But 1000 people now have a great story to tell their friends. AND one of them actually bought an original Warhol for a ridiculous price.

Takeaways for your business:

1. Contrary to popular belief, people tend to be more motivated by uncertain rewards than by clear, known rewards.

The reason why this happens is because uncertainty makes it feel like a game (and this makes people work harder and spend more in the process). Psychologists call this the Motivating-Uncertainty Effect.

Important note: Uncertainty can be more powerful than certainty BUT only if you focus your marketing message on the journey towards the reward (and not on actually winning the reward).

Last summer when PoolsideFM launched a sunscreen brand called Vacation.inc, suddenly everyone was posting on Twitter business cards with made up jobs like "Lead Designer of Margarita Waterslides”, “Head of Karaoke” or “VP of the Poolside Vibes Committee”.


This was the Motivating Uncertainty Effect in action. And it all started because of this cheeky referral web page. 👏

Vacation.inc went viral on twitter, not because people wanted to win a free tube of sunscreen, but because they were motivated by the cool and funny made up job titles and by the bandwagon appeal of sharing their new virtual business cards.