By Don Hall
"We either put out six different flavors of jam or 24 different flavors of jam and we looked at two things.
"First, in what case were people more likely to buy a jar of jam? The first thing we looked at, in what case were people more likely to be attracted to the jar or jam, so in which case are people more likely to stop when they saw the display of jams and what we found was that more people stopped when there were 24 jams.
"About 60 percent of the people stopped when we had 24 jams on display and then at the times when we had 6 different flavors of jam out on display only 40 percent of the people actually stopped, so more people were clearly attracted to the larger varieties of options, but then when it came down to buying, so the second thing we looked at is in what case were people more likely to buy a jar of jam.
"What we found was that of the people who stopped when there were 24 different flavors of jam out on display only three percent of them actually bought a jar of jam whereas of the people who stopped when there were six different flavors of jam 30 percent of them actually bought a jar of jam. So, if you do the math, people were actually six times more likely to buy a jar of jam if they had encountered six than if they encountered 24, so what we learned from this study was that while people were more attracted to having more options, that’s what sort of got them in the door or got them to think about jam, when it came to choosing time they were actually less likely to make a choice if they had more to choose from than if they had fewer to choose from.
And that really ended up starting an entire area of research where we began to look at 'Why is that?' And a large part of that has to do with the fact that when people have a lot of options to choose from they don’t know how to tell them apart. They don’t know how to keep track of them. They start asking themselves 'Well which one is the best? Which one would be good for me?' And all those questions are much easier to ask if you’re choosing from six than when you’re choosing from 24 and if you look at the marketplace today most often we have a lot more than 24 of things to choose from."
— Sheena Iyangar, co-author of the study, When Choice is Demotivating: Can One Desire Too Much of a Good Thing?
As I look through the nearly limitless number of entertainment options available to me, this quick study comes to mind.
On any given day in the City of Chicago, I can choose from among hundreds of live events—concerts, staged readings, poetry slams, storytelling nights, improv shows, sketch shows, dance performances, plays, musicals, performance art, stand up comedy, movies—it's kind of fucking ridiculous.
I became fed up with the soul crushing need to find out new ways to market shows and new ideas on how to make social media work to peddle my particular brand of fuckity-fuck-fuck that I went the other direction. We already know that institutions pay far more money for marketing directors than any collection of actors; we already know that those marketing directors are, like economists and line cooks, making that shit up as they go along.
Advertising is destroying every good thing in the world, folks. We are lied to so often—by the companies that manufacture stuff, by the news media trying to boost ratings, by the partisan politicians trying to win office, by the OK Cupid pickup artists, by the fake porn Twitter followers—that invading someone's thing with your pitch is becoming just one more god-awful obstacle toward finding some peace. You know?
As for social media, the push to make these innocuous, narcissistic time wasters a way to market your show has turned something kind of fun and interesting on a personal level into a fucking whorehouse of friends begging you for a dollar bill for a handjob.
Turn it off. Stop it, already.
You wanna do well with your shows? Dare to be different from everyone else!
Your improv show is exactly like every other improv show in town. Your political incorrect sketch show about relationships in the Facebook Age—been done a thousand times. That cutting edge play by that well-known playwright about fucking anything has been done to death. And there are too many choices for any patron to effectively make up his mind so he listens to the people with the money to buy ads on the sides of buses and on signs on the top of taxis.
Do something unique.
It's really not that hard. Look around. If you see 15 listings of productions of The Seagull or Arcadia, don't do that.