Sunday, July 15, 2007

Originality on a Sunday Afternoon

Creatives in the ad business put a high premium on originality and for lots of good reasons: more original ads are good for the creatives' careers and at their best, they tend to help get consumers' attention.

One of the problems with overvaluing originality, however, is that the majority of people aren't terribly interested in original experiences. Despite what we say, most of us want the same thing over and over, with slight variations.

The evidence on the subject is pretty overwhelming but I was reminded of the fact today when I the NYT's story on John Travolta's role in the movie adaption of Hairspray. The article was a reflection on the many rises and falls in Travolta's career with special attention to the controversy surrounding his membership in the Church Scientology. But what struck me was the more basic fact that they were making a movie from a musical that had been made from a movie. What's next? Another musical, an ice show, an animated series, followed by another movie and musical.

Other evidence. My kids eating ice-cream earlier this afternoon. They never seem to get bored with it. And they usually order the same flavor, week after week.

There's a great experiment in the annals of Behavioral Economics, documenting this same phenomena. It's noted by Richard Thaler in his foundational essay "Mental Accounting: You can find it here. But this is the relevant bit:

Read and Loewenstein (1995)... demonstrated the role of choice bracketing in an ingenious experiment conducted on Halloween night. The 'subjects' in the experiment were young trick-or-treaters who approached two adjacent houses. In one condition the children were offered a choice between two candies (Three Musketeers and Milky Way) at each house. In the other condition they were told at the first house they reached to 'choose whichever two candy bars you like'. Large piles of both candies were displayed to assure that the children would not think it rude to take two of the same. The results showed a strong diversification bias in the simultaneous choice condition: every child selected one of each candy. In contrast, only 48% of the children in the sequential choice condition picked different candies. This result is striking, since in either case the candies are dumped into a bag and consumed later. It is the portfolio in the bag that matters, not the portfolio selected at each house.
When we are offered options we tend to take options, but day after day, well, we tend to pick the usual, our old favorites, though we might add some jimmies for variety.

No comments: