Today's Waiting Game

Today, thousands of people will be waiting on line. They will bring blankets. They will eat, they will joke. They will get chummy with people on line next to them — total strangers that they otherwise would never talk to.  They will hang around expectantly waiting for their nirvana experience.

I’ll bet you thought this was going to be about the iPhone.
After all, I’m predicting that today’s iPhone launch will
eclipse any new product entry we’ve seen in decades in terms of the
sheer scope of the hype that’s been created.

But I’m actually writing about another line that thousands will be waiting on today for hours. A line that formed yesterday and the day before, and last year, and for the last several decades each summer here in New York. I’m talking about The Public Theater’s "Free Shakespeare in the Park." 

As a culture-going New Yorker I’ve spent many weekend days over the years getting to Central Park at the crack of dawn to wait with my fellow Shakespeare lovers for free tickets for a performance later that night. I can remember going there at 4:30 AM one year, when Meryl Streep was in "The Seagull." I remember waiting in 100 degree weather to see Patrick Stuart in "The Tempest." And, today a bunch of members of my staff are doing the same thing – they took the day off to go wait for tickets to see this year’s "Romeo & Juliet" which got spectacular notices in the press.

As I reflect on these two waiting games, I’m wondering whether it’s the same thing that motivates us to do this seemingly irrational thing?. Waiting on line for hours to buy a $500 phone? Waiting on line for hours to see Shakespeare?   Is it that they really want the phone or to see the play that badly? Surely there are suitable alternatives.

Or is it that there’s a basic human desire to participate in communal experiences that make this kind of line waiting fun, rather than horrible?  I was at the MET Opera the other day, and its $20 "rush" ticket program generates the same kinds of enthusiasm — and lines.

An economist would say it’s merely about price – supply is short, demand is high. That’s it. I think there’s more to it than that – and buried inside, something of a lesson for arts marketers. The human desire to participate in "events" is very real. Today thousands of people will have their "story" about what it was like to be there. They will tell their friends, and repeat the story for years. It’s real world viral marketing. 

Perhaps this is something to keep in mind when you’re planning your marketing programs. We’re reminded today of what can happen when you motivate a huge number of people — it’s great marketing pure and simple. Let’s watch today play out in grand-scale in Central Park, and at the Apple store and see if we can’t take back some lessons for our own marketing.

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One response to “Today’s Waiting Game

  1. Good observation, Gene. I wonder how we can jump-start this kind of inertia in the e-marketing world. When it comes to the internet and most arts organizations, the general expectation of our patrons is, I think, that one can get what one wants (information and products especially) at one’s own convenience any time of day or night and miss very little by not opting to “wait in line” for it—generally a good expectation to cultivate. But in some cases it may be that this is partly fueled by a perception that we as non-profit organizations have plenty of supply and nothing pressing in the way of demand. Ticket sales are an obvious exception. But I’m thinking in particular of arts and cultural programs/organizations such museums, libraries, publications and foundations.
    Thanks for your great work at Patron Technology.

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