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The weird and wonderful world of TradeMe

Simon Pound rides the wave of TradeMe fame – but not fortune.

As any story about a James Bond Villain style Mission Control panel should, this starts with a secret underground organisation with a shadowy leader. Kind of.

I was working on an ad campaign that wanted a Dr No style set to represent its secret leader’s lair. Everyone loved the plans, so we got building.

It was life-size: four metres wide, two metres tall and 1.8m deep. It had monitors and knobs, buttons, gauges, needles pointing to numbers, the whole nine yards. It looked exactly like the kind of thing that you’d find in a 60s Bond film. It was perfect. We shot the ad and it was perfect. But the client hated it.

If you don’t work in advertising, you might think this is bonkers. If you work in advertising this will not surprise you. We had to make an entirely new TVC and I was left with an enormous mission control panel in my garage.

After a while you get used to it. People would come round and be astounded to see it there. “Bro,” they would say. “What on earth is that? And you’d remember that not everyone had one. It had cost around $3,000 to build. It was pretty big, and a few years old, so not in the best nick. It was also made as a set for just one shoot and not built for longevity, so I really didn’t want to make out it was a great buy. I thought I’d write up a bit of a yarn, chuck it on TradeMe and hope for the best.

I posted the listing on Twitter and Facebook and with the beauty of small New Zealand it wasn’t long before the @TradeMe account noticed and Ana Samways from Sideswipe said she was keen to feature it. By the end of the day it had 1,700 views and it was on TradeMe’s cool auctions. Suddenly it was up to 6,000 views. This was kind of addictive. And the next morning, Sideswipe. Then the questions began.

Questions on TradeMe are kind of a Rorschach test –they often say a lot more about the person asking the question than anything else.

Q: My name is Alan and I’d like to know if I am evil enough for this excellent auction?

A: I guess that depends. There are some good indicators though. If you have a nickname like Abominable Alan or Alan the Terrible then you will be plenty evil.

I tried to be honest.

Q: What does the big red button do?

A: So, so much. (Nothing)

Some were just plain odd.

Q: My name is Brian, should I change my name to something more scary?

A: I think it would work for you if you started calling yourself Pinky and the Brian.

Some had me wondering if it’s still a compliment when they say you should give up your day job to be a writer if your day job pretty much is as a writer.

The numbers climbed: 10,000 views, then 11,000. Around 100 questions. Friends who were TradeMe experts told me that the real figure to watch is the number watching: 300- odd of them. I started to think this might go for a decent sum. In my head I’d even thrown out our Eta peanut butter and bought the fancy stuff from Nosh. All our fruit had become organic! But as the end approached the price was still low: $161 low.

It seemed that the approach of making a good case of buyer beware had perhaps become buyer stay away. Or perhaps not many people had much use for a massive, kind of crappy, flimsy ex-film set. But in the final moments there was a bidding war. A series of furious bids took the price from $161 all the way up to ... $175.

All in all I really enjoyed my 15MB of fame. And although $175 was better than having to take it apart and tow it to the tip, it looks like my fruit will be staying of the sprayed variety for a wee bit longer.