Why One Thousand Paintings Works

What a fantastic phenomenon One Thousand Paintings has become in the last 24 hours for the Zürich-based artist Sala. In case you haven’t checked it out yet, Sala is selling 1,000 paintings of the numbers 1-1,000. The selling price of each painting is calculated like this:

  • Value = 1000 – number.
  • Initial discount: 90%.
  • Current discount: 60%.
  • The discount will decrease by an absolute 10% for every 100 paintings sold.
  • Min. price: $40.

The project launched in February of this year. After several months of incremental sales, Sala had sold 105 paintings as of May 29. Yesterday he hit the tipping point, and as of this writing the tally is 413. Not a bad day and a half, thanks to a flood of viral linkage prompted by a mention in BoingBoing.

When I blogged about this yesterday, one commenter wondered what this had to do with copywriting. The answer is simple.

Just about everything.

One Thousand Paintings is a wonderful example of an irresistible offer. In other words, one or more fundamental elements of the offering is so compelling that it gets people talking, linking, and buying en masse — simply by the very nature of the offer itself.

It’s not the 1,000 pieces of canvass with simple blue numbers painted on them that means anything. That’s not what made it go viral; that’s not why the paintings are selling at an extraordinary rate; that’s not even what makes the paintings art.

It’s the offer. More than simply words, copywriting is all about presenting the best, most compelling offer you can.

And in this case, the offer makes the art.

Let’s take a look at the psychological elements of the offer that make it irresistible to its target audience:

  • Uniqueness – If this isn’t remarkable, I don’t know what is. It just about goes without saying that an extremely unique idea must be present in order for the concept to have any chance of going viral.
  • Scarcity – The limited number of authenticated paintings creates scarcity, along with the fact that only one of each number is sold. Scarcity is a fundamental attribute of all original art that increases in value, and also helps increase the buzz that is already in motion.
  • Urgency – The pricing scheme prompts people to buy the initial paintings, which increases the buzz even more, until the proverbial tipping point when others are prompted to buy even more paintings before the next incremental price increase, and so on.
  • Value – Beyond the story behind each painting that provides its aesthetic value, the above elements are likely perceived by buyers as creating a valuable secondary market for the paintings that can lead to later financial gain.
  • Exclusivity – All of the above combined results in the Holy Grail for art, collectibles, luxury and performance products to name a few — exclusivity. Not everyone can have one, and that’s why the offer becomes irresistible.

What’s that you say? You don’t consider this art, and would never spend a dime on a simple painting of a numeral?

That’s ok. Sala doesn’t need everyone to think its art, or even that it has value.

He only needs 1,000 people to find his offer (and therefore his art) irresistible. My guess is he’ll get those 1,000, because there are plenty of people out there who “get” this cool intersection between marketing, media, technology and art. And I’ll further wager that those original 1,000 paintings will increase in value, thereby providing an economic advantage to all involved.

Many people are comparing One Thousand Paintings to the Million Dollar Homepage. Although the value propositions are different, the concepts are similar because they are both irresistible offers. Both concepts involve a viral “win-win.”

Alex Tew succeeded with the Million Dollar Home Page because the more people bought pixels, the more buzz was generated . . . until the tipping point when people realized that buying pixels allowed them to share in that massive attention. It was a brilliant idea that became a self-propagating irresistible offer based on publicity and exposure alone.

Same thing with One Thousand Paintings. The buzz creates value to buyers at the same time it benefits the artist, by creating an instant secondary market for the paintings, even before they are all sold.

Or maybe it’s just a great story you can hang on your wall.

What’s your story?

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Reader Comments (29)

  1. says

    Brilliant, Brian!

    Great summation of the efficacy of the “1,000 Paintings” project and a great explanation of what it has to do with copywriting.

    I think this type of thing is going to catch on in a big way. The $1,000,000 Web Page and now this…it’s just the tip of the iceberg for these “urgency” “get a piece now” type projects. I’m sure there will be terrible knock-offs, but also some real sparks of genius. I have to say I’m looking forward to it.

    Thanks for the great post!!

  2. says

    My story is the 2000 Bricks project which launched about a month ago and is very similar to Sala’s, though with a very different product. Charlie’s exactly right about a million terrible knock-offs, and I hope I’ve provided enough of a difference and enough value with my project that it’s not seen as a cheap knock-off; that’s definitely not what I hope for it to be. I’ve had a blast developing my project and hope others will have a blast participating in it.

  3. says

    Brian, I like your brick project, although I have to admit the painting concept hit me a bit closer to home. I’m a sucker for art (literally, according to some of the comments on the 67 post). :)

  4. says

    Very smart post. Wonder if any “serious collectors” got any. If I had the dough I’d buy them all. It also has the art world element involved which adds to the mystique. Warholesque.

  5. Neal says

    I’d have to argue the uniqueness point, recycling is an important part of creativity and this is no exception. Ed Kienholz painted prices on canvas which he bartered for goods – each canvas was unique and probably worth a small fortune now. This is just an extension of that idea from the 70’s (possibly earlier) and should really be recognised as such.

  6. says

    Hi Neal. I saw mention of Ed Kienholz earlier somewhere… not sure it’s the same thing. I think what makes this unique to Internet types is slightly different, and in any event, it’s not something you see every day (like most other “me too” stuff in our ultra-franchised world).

  7. says

    Oh wow! I get to be the exception that proves the rule. Cheap sonofagun that I am, I am not interested in this art. This may be irresistable to some, perhaps more than a thousand, but as a consumer, I’m not part of this bell curve. (I’m trying to picture myself explaining to a friend who hadn’t heard about this until he saw a number hanging on my wall why I bought it and why I think it’s art.)

    Are you sure you’re impressed because it’s art, or because it’s a darn good example of viral marketing?

    But hang on to your number anyway. If anyone still has a pet rock in its original container, it’s probably worth a lot on e-bay. This might be worth a lot decades from now as well. Or not.

    But dang! I wish I’d thought of it first.-)

  8. says

    >>Are you sure you’re impressed because it’s art, or because it’s a darn good example of viral marketing?

    It’s one because it’s the other. How’s that for a mind bender? :)

  9. ziggy says

    I admit, I bought one, too. (just not 12). I didn’t buy it because I thought it was a great piece of art, however; I bought it because I liked the story that Sala created with/about it (Seth will dig the “story” ref), and because it will be a conversation piece in my living room (I’m an advertising/marketing professor, so a lot of my colleagues will ‘get’ the concept to begin with). As has already been said, it’s not for everyone, but I’m sure that are 1,000 of us out there who will, eventually, snatch up every last one.

  10. says

    It is art if you can’t sell it for more than you bought it for. Everything my 6 year old son draws is art. This is as good – therefore -ART.

    It is a masterpiece if you can sell it for more (like my number 630).

    Enough said.

  11. says

    I still find this troubling. It has value simply because you infuse it with value. I like art too, but this just doesn’t do it for me.

    For some reason, it reminds me of beanie babies.

    To each their own…

  12. ziggy says

    It’s like Tiffany’s “Blue Box,” only instead of opening it, we’ll skip that step and just hang our new “box” on the wall :-)

  13. says

    to each their own.


    The thing about successful art i find, is it cannot exist in a vacumb.

    This is surely successful art!

    Ming(the artist)

  14. says

    Okay, maybe this is a clever idea, and one that WORKED, so who am I to say it stinks?

    Art is in the eye of the beholder, I suppose. But I can’t help but feel this is a great promotion of emptiness, the marketing of “stuff” for marketing sake. So, maybe Sala’s idea is a marketing piece of art, but it feels kind of sad and empty to me.

  15. says

    Um… one question: is this simply good viral marketing or is it an example of solid brand building? Each of the sites mentioned may get some decent traffic and revenue for a period, but a year from now I think many people will be walking around saying, “Remember that 1000 paintings/$1,000,000 Web page/whatever’s next?” It’s this year’s version of the dancing baby or “All your base are belong to us.” What I’m much more interested in is how someone builds a sustainable business from it.

  16. says

    An offer people would find difficult to resist – sometimes I guess just the mere thought of something as limited draws attention. I guess for me what it does is think of everyone who bought it as a community of sorts. Who knows? Maybe they’d even all meet up someday and share stories about it.

  17. says

    Whether it’s art or not doesn’t really matter at the end of the day, although it does make an amusing debate.

    “It’s only worth what someone is willing to pay for it,” seems to fit the bill here quite nicely.

    I can’t help but be a wee bit jealous of Sala…I think there’s a lot of people out there saying, “Doh! Why didn’t I think of that?” whether they think it’s art or not…

  18. says

    I decided to buy a number that has aesthetic value, therefore I picked 906. It is a visual pallendrome, in several forms. It was also rather inexpensive when I got it. If this whole project amounts to nothing huge, I will still be happy with my aesthetically pleasing number. I’ll probably hang it sideways to emphasize its universality. Perhaps I’ll illuminate it with a colored lamp to alter the color.

    This whole endeavor is both very observant and prescient at the same time.

  19. says

    I started a project in May semi-similar to the post above called Art4mba.com. I work for a Community Mental Health in Michigan and my boss is retiring. The next logical step in my career path is to take over his position but I do not meet the education requirement. I need to go back to school and get my MBA. With no money and very little chance of school loans happening, I’ve turned something bad into an opportunity for good.

    So here I am selling ten thousand mini-paintings for $5 and includes shipping! My original canvas art squares are unique and they are one of a kind.

    I’m glad onethousandpaintings happen because it shows that it is possible to think or an original idea and use the power of the internet to make it work.

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