What is the value of a candle?

This is a long post, so please feel free to skip it.

They say that it is almost impossible to attempt to date the origin of candles. Apparently the existing evidence is simply inconclusive as to the candle’s history. My earliest & perhaps most vivid memory about the candle dates back to my early childhood days, all the way back in the 1970s. Specifically, I remember this candle shop I used to walk by with my family from time to time. It had an unusually unassuming front window, featuring nothing else but maybe a dozen of candles.

The candle shop was located in my hometown in Croatia. The candle maker, my Mom used to tell me, ranked with the best in Europe. I remembered his candle shop simply because it was so different from all other shops I have seen as a child. This was the 70s – a time of disco, platform boots and big-flashy neon signs. But this little candle maker was obviously  having none of it. His shop was somehow locked in itself.

I completely forgot all about that candle maker and his shop until a couple of years ago. Here is what happened: During my last visit to my hometown, I drove by his shop one early morning on my way to the local farmers’ market. “But how did you notice it again,” you might be wondering right now. It was not a coincidence, as I was shocked to find out that since the 1970s the candle maker made no changes to his front window – it  was still about as low-tech as you can find. I was thinking to myself: “Here is someone who obviously understands that the icing is not the cake, and the icing does not make the cake.”

I pondered for a couple of moments about this candle maker and then moved on. But for some reason I could not completely get it out of my mind. For a few short moments I was thinking, “How does he still manage to stay in business?” Then, suddenly I recalled that I read something interesting on the subject of candles in the early 2000s. On the spot, however, that was all I could recall. But as soon as I got back to my parents’ place, I fired up my laptop and started my search. Sure enough, shortly after I had my answer: I was thinking about a  short story titled The Value of  a Candle by Al & Laura Ries. Here is a little taste:

How do you measure the value of a candle? You can’t measure its value by light output, since the candle has lost its function as a means of lighting a room. The years that followed Thomas Alva Edison’s invention of the incandescent lamp might have been called “the fall of the candle and the rise of the lightbulb.”

Yet every night all over America millions of candles are burning.
No romantic dinner is complete without candles on the table.
Individual candles are sold for $20 or $30 each, much more than a lightbulb.
Unlike an electric bulb, the value of a candle has no relationship to its light output.
_ _ _

Let me now fast-forward you out of 1970s and right into the December of 2010. In its last issue (Dec 2010), Fast Company magazine asked three world renowned agencies (BBDOFactory Design LabsVictors & Spoils) to visualize their business today and in the near future. Here is what Roy Elvove of BBDO said: “Technologies are constantly changing. However, the one thing that doesn’t change is basic human needs.”

Please don’t take this last point lightly. The basics are where it’s at. Why does candle making still survive, and apparently thrive, in our modern world? Because candles provide to us some very important emotional benefits. They symbolize  the onset of all kinds of holidays and traditions; they are used to display joy, intimacy, self-pampering, status, sorrow and/or compassion, etc. What emotional benefit(s) does your product/service provide to your target audience? What basic human need(s) does it serve?