I always thought marketing was invented in the US about a hundred years ago or so. Little did I know that clever merchants from the East thousands of years earlier were much better in the art of making products desirable than yours truly and most of my colleagues.
Artificially limiting supplies to drive prices up was a good start. Coming up with outrageous legends about spices and the dangers that spice harvesters had to face was simply genius. Herodotus writes of Arabic merchants that claimed that the only way to get cinnamon was to pick a fight with some huge aggressive birds who made their nests from these aromatic sticks. If you wanted cinnamon you had to slaughter a cow, cut it to pieces and leave the meat on the bottom of the mountain where the birds lived (and of course hide very quickly). The gluttonous birds would then fetch all the meat they could carry back to their nests, which at some point would break under the weight of the meat and roll downhill to be picked up by the brave cinnamon harvesters. Or take frankincense that supposedly came from trees guarded by flying snakes (as if crawling snakes weren’t bad enough). The only way to get access to the precious incense was to first smoke another incense that the snakes didn’t like and then do the harvesting faster than lightning.
The legends worked rather well – back in the day the black pepper we carelessly add to our salads and fried eggs had a one-on-one exchange rate with gold. Or take the fact that Ramses II was buried with one peppercorn up each nostril (not gold or a marble chiseled credit card). More about spices in this episode of Planet Money podcast
Hats to the clever men from the East for their marketing genius. People want stories (if not legends), not product features, newsletters or special offers. Will try to keep that in mind more often.