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A Hobson's Choice is a a choice in which someone is offered the opportunity to decide between two distasteful options. In reality, a Hobson's Choice is not a choice at all, since the individual must decide upon the lesser of two evils, or settle for something rather than nothing. The term is often used in a situation where someone has the illusion of choice, but is not actually able to exercise free will. One of the most classic examples of the Hobson's Choice is Henry Ford's marketing campaign for the Model T, in which he famously said that consumers could “have any color they want, as long as it's black.”
The term originates from an actual person, Thomas Hobson, who ran a livery stable in Cambridge, England, in the early 1600s. In an attempt to keep up stable rotation so that his horses were not overused, he said that customers could take the horse closest to the door of the stable, or none. The phrase “take that or none” was immortalized in a 1688 poem by Thomas Ward, who also referred to “Hobson's Choice” in the poem.
Often, Hobson's Choice is an option between something or nothing. When asked to choose between an unsatisfactory thing and nothing at all, many people will settle for something unsatisfactory, but they have not truly made a choice. The term is often used to find the situation in which homeless people find themselves, where they are offered no real options, merely the illusion of choices. This type of Hobson's Choice is sometimes used to push people into a decision, especially in marketing.
Another type of Hobson's choice is the option of two unpleasant things. The classic phrase “your money or your life” is an example of a Hobson's Choice, because presumably the victim does not want to give up either. Forced to choose between the two, many victims choose to give up their money. This is not, of course, a real choice at all, it is a demand masquerading as an option.
In marketing, the concept of Hobson's Choice is often used to push people into purchasing products or reaching a quick decision. Prospective purchasers of real estate, for example, might be told that another couple is making a bid on a house, so they need to move quickly or end up with nothing. Many marketing professionals are skilled at forcing their clients into these types of situations while keeping the clients unaware, while others are blatant about offering a Hobson's Choice.