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This Blog Contains Spoilers - And Here’s Why That’s a Good Thing!

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  • Neuromarketing Principle:
    Spoilers that disclose important parts of books, movies or series have turned out to have positive effects on success by increasing enjoyment and box office revenue.
  • Application:
    Both publishers and consumers shouldn’t worry too much about spoilers. In some circumstances, you might actually want to implicitly encourage consumers to generate spoiler reviews by, for example, making use of reverse psychology tactics.
  • We’ve probably all been there; for months, you’ve been looking forward to watch a new movie that just came out. When you’re about to see the movie, though, your friend who just saw it tells you how it ends. Well, when that happens to me, I tend to get angry because I assume the movie will not be as fun anymore. Sounds logical right? If you already know the outcome, then why still watch the movie?

    We might assume that it is because of this reason that the publishers of the movie ‘Avengers: Endgame’ communicated the following warning to fans upon the release of their movie: “When you see Endgame in the coming weeks, please don’t spoil it for others, the same way you wouldn’t want it spoiled to you” (Kooser, 2019).

    Reverse psychology and reactance

    But did the publishers of this movie really have the intention to minimize the release of spoilers? Because if so, that warning was not a very clever one. The reason for this is based on reverse psychology, which is the phenomenon that people do the opposite of what you are asking them to do. This might seem a little counterintuitive, but let’s look at the phenomenon more closely. And in order to do so, we first have to understand the term “reactance”.

    Reactance refers to the uncomfortable feeling you get when you have the feeling that your freedom is threatened. As a natural response to such a threat, people tend to do the opposite of what is requested as a means of restoring their personal independence. Reverse psychology plays into this principle by purposely asking the opposite of what is demanded. So in the case of the spoiler example above, by asking people not to spoil, the publishers actually increase the chance that people will spoil. As such, instead of minimizing spoilers, the warning might have been a very clever marketing tactic to increase spoilers.

    Spoil it away

    But why would the movie publishers do that? Why would they want you to spoil?

    Well, it turns out that spoilers generated by consumers can actually have positive effects on the success of a book, movie or series. In fact, it was found that revealing the surprises of stories beforehand makes people like the stories better (Leavitt & Christenfeld, 2011). Reasons behind this phenomenon are that spoilers enable people to organize the story better in their minds, to anticipate the events within the story and to resolve ambiguities that might arise during reading.

    In addition, it was found that spoiler intensity of a movie’s reviews - defined as the degree to which the information decreases uncertainty about the plot - has a positive relationship with subsequent box office revenue (Ryoo, Wang, & Lu, 2021). As such, spoilers can positively influence box office revenue and thus a movie’s success. The underlying mechanism is that people like to reduce uncertainty about the quality of a movie. In line with this, it was found that the positive effect of spoiler intensity is more pronounced for movies associated with greater uncertainty, for example for movies with smaller advertising spending and movies that are newer.

    Clever move, that warning from the publishers, right?

    So is spoiling always beneficial?

    The answer to this question is no. Besides the earlier mentioned positive effects, spoilers can of course also have negative effects, such as that of “surprise burst”. In other words, spoilers can ruin the element of surprise and thereby decrease consumption utility, which makes a movie less enjoyable. So, it is important to always look at the net effect of spoilers. That is, the positive effects minus the negative ones.

    These net effects are found to be more positive in certain situations. For example, it was found that the positive effect of spoiler intensity is particularly strong for movies with moderate average user ratings compared to movies with either very low or very high ratings. Movies that have received an average of 3 stars, for example, instead of either 1 or 5 stars. This again can be explained by uncertainty; the moderate user ratings are associated with more uncertainty about the quality of a movie than the low or high ratings (Tang, Fang, & Wang, 2014). As such, people benefit more from spoilers for such movies since it allows them to reduce this increased uncertainty.

    In other situations, in which there is less uncertainty about the quality of a movie, the positive effect of spoilers is less pronounced. For example, for movies with large advertising budgets or extremely high or low user ratings, spoilers do not affect box office revenue significantly. So, the positive effect of uncertainty reduction in these circumstances does not outweigh the negative effects of the surprise burst. Furthermore, the positive effect of spoilers is larger in the earlier days of a movie’s release, again, because of the higher perceived uncertainty about the movie’s quality.

    Key takeaways

    • Spoilers can have positive effects on the success of movies, books and series by increasing enjoyment and box office revenue.
    • Movie publishers and marketeers could benefit from actually encouraging consumers to generate reviews that contain spoilers by using psychological tactics such as reverse psychology.
    • The positive net effect of spoilers is particularly strong for movies, books and series associated with high uncertainty, such as new releases, low advertising budgets and moderate average user ratings.
  • This Blog Contains Spoilers - And Here’s Why That’s a Good Thing!
  • Reference:

    Ryoo, J.H., Wang, X., & Lu, S. (2021). Do Spoilers Really Spoil? Using Topic Modeling to Measure the Effect of Spoiler Reviews on Box Office Revenue. Journal of Marketing, 85(2), 70-88.


    Further Reading

    • The future of music - and advertising: How brain activity seizes the hit-potential of new music.

      The future of music - and advertising: How brain activity seizes the hit-potential of new music.

      Would you have recognized the hit-potential of Dua Lipa before it was cool? Or Drake? 

      Most probably, you won’t. As you know, there’s a lot of money going round in the music industry. But the question remains how much is invested efficiently, as this can only be addressed when the song is a few weeks in the air. But what if we would have the power to predict what song will be in the charts for weeks, which everyone will be humming and thus which song is the blockbuster of the month and the cash cow of the record label?

      Recent research by Unravel Research has done exactly this. But first, let’s explain the theory behind the story. 

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