Last Updated on November 27, 2023
Back in 2009, some very clever people ran an interesting experiment. Rob Walker and Joshua Glenn bought 100 items from places like junk shops and listed them on Ebay. Big deal, right?
The clever part of this experiment is that they hired 100 writers to write stories about the objects. The stories were not true, and the eBay listings made it clear that they were not true stories. But all the ‘tat’ they listed on eBay sold well.
The Significant Objects project was born.
Stories are significant to us as people and, therefore, very important in marketing. I loved the story but wondered if I could give it a modern twist. Could I use AI to write short stories about cheap objects to speed up the process?
As I write this blog post, the world is in a tizzy about AI. This amuses me a bit – AI has been around for many, many years. AI is a tool, how we use that tool is still something we’re figuring out.
In this section of my personal blog, I’ll keep a record of the stories I used AI to generate for eBay listings. I will also share the prompts I used.
The AI story writing prompt
To get the ball rolling on the stories I used the ‘ProWriter-2 ✍️ Creative Stories at your fingertips’ by Charlize Young. So a huge amount of thanks is due to this person!
I then added the following prompt:
The story needs to be around 500 words with a twists at the end. The story is going to about about an object that I am going to upload some photos of. It needs to be heartwarming. Characters are motivated by positivity and happy memories. The story needs to be family friendly. Are you ready?
Ebay now has an AI description creator as part of the listing process, so I’m assuming they’re cool with people using AI to write descriptions.
I would never use AI to create content for a website; Google has made it clear they’ll more or less disregard AI content, and as a writer and general creative myself I love actually writing content myself, so wouldn’t use AI. But this is an experiment, so I’m excusing myself from my usual rules.
I want to make it incredibly clear to anyone bidding on any items I list that the story is not at all true. This is why I steered the prompt the way I did. Hopefully, anyone can tell that the story behind the object is total fiction.
Here’s the caveat that I post at the top of every eBay listing:
There’s only so much I can say about this object, so I’m going to share a short story about it. Please be clear, the story about this object is total fiction. It is not fact at all and should not be taken as being anything other than a fanciful story. I wrote this story using a series of AI prompts (not the Ebay AI description).
If you win this auction, you can use the story for whatever you fancy. Maybe you can tell friends and family the story for entertainment!
The auction is real, but the story is not.
So, now that I have made it as clear as possible that this story is fiction, here it is:
I really don’t think I could make it any clearer! I’ll report back here periodically as my experiments progress.
I set up the eBay auction to donate 20% of the proceeds to Cancer Research UK.
Update – 20/11/23
The biggest issue this experiment is having is the lack of views on the listings. Maybe the experiment worked better in the USA because the potential market is so much larger?
Update – 21/11/23
When I was looking at eBay yesterday I hadn’t spotted that the Nutcracker had sold but hadn’t been paid for yet. The buyer has now paid £4.23 for the nutcracker.
I spent £5.50 buying these knick-knacks, and have now made £6.21 in sales. I’m in £0.71 in profit!
Update – 27/11/23
The cows and the sphinx sold today for £0.99 each. So the experiment hasn’t been totally amazing! I think I’ll keep the calculator and call the experiment quits.
The eBay stories archive
The Nutcracker’s Secret In the quaint village of Willow Creek, nestled between golden hills and whispering willows, there lived an elderly couple, Arthur and Edith. Theirs was a love that had blossomed in youth, weathered through decades, and mellowed…
The Tale of Ebony and Ivory In the sunlit kitchen of the cozy Maplewood house, two ceramic figurines—a black bull and a white cow—stood side by side on the windowsill, overlooking the blooming garden. They were known as Ebony…
The Purr-fect Post In a quaint British town dotted with cobbled streets and rose-covered cottages, Miss Penelope’s Cat Academy was a peculiar sight. Nestled between a bakery and a florist, the academy was home to an assortment of felines…
Thank you for the photos. Let’s begin the story. The Figures of Friendship In the bustling corridors of Greenwood Middle School, an old Casio calculator rested in the depths of a worn leather case, its once-shiny buttons dulled from…
The Tongs of Time In the sunlit kitchen of the Cooper family, an elegant set of silver-plated sugar cube tongs lay beside an antique teacup collection. These weren’t just any tongs; they were a family heirloom, polished to a…
Once upon a time, in the warm embrace of the Anderson family’s living room, a sturdy metal paperweight in the shape of an ancient Egyptian sphinx sat perched atop a pile of letters and drawings. It was no ordinary…