It has always been a favourite pastime of ours to look at critics’ quotes on theatre and film posters and wonder what the context might have been. Everyone knows there’s a bit of creativity going on here, don’t they?
Well, when we saw the Children’s Hour described as a ‘blazingly hot ticket’ in a marketing email, our attention was piqued. We had another look at the Evening Standard review. Sure enough, this phrase appears, at the beginning of the review, and refers to Elizabeth Moss, whose popularity in the TV programme ‘Mad Men’ has helped to make the show a ‘blazingly hot ticket’. This comment could have been made by anyone without seeing the show, and certainly does not form part of the review. It is merely a term to describe something popular.
As for the email’s claim to describing ‘critical acclaim for The Children’s Hour’, that too is questionable. The Evening Standard’s headline reads ‘Keira Knightley and ‘Peggy’ shine but unknown dazzles in The Children’s Hour’. Intrigued, we look at the other quotes. There are nine of them altogether, but they only come from five reviews – alternated. Both the Evening Standard and the Guardian do indeed praise the acting, but not the play. The Telegraph is very enthusiastic, which would account for the three quotes. And the Daily Mail, despite declaring the play ‘A splendid evening’ has very little nice to say about either of the leads, referring to Keira Knightley’s performance as one of which a ‘journey-woman thesp’ would be proud. So not a £85 premium ticket performance, then.
This tactic of wanting us to believe that tickets are impossible to get whilst displaying a very large ‘buy’ button at the bottom of the email shouldn’t surprise us. In their fascinating book ‘Yes! 50 secrets from the science of persuasion’, Noah Goldstein, Steven Martin and Robert Cialdini call this phenomenon ‘social proof’, and they describe how consumers become more interested in a product if they think everyone else is. Hence, we have banner advertisements for ‘Richard III’ at the Old Vic proclaiming ‘good availability for August’. A very neat way to scare us into thinking we are about to miss out on a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity whilst giving us a final chance to grab that last remaining ticket. In the same book we are told that fear is a very good motivator as long as you have a clear plan of action. Well, thank heavens for that one-click link to the online box office, then.