Would you see 'James Bond 21'? How about 'Die Another Day'?

Study finds that movies sequels should be named, not numbered

A fascinating new study from the December issue of the Journal of Consumer Research is the first to conceptualize sequels as the movie equivalent of brand extensions. According to traditional branding research, extension evaluations improve when the extension is perceived to be similar to the parent brand. However, Sanjay Sood (UCLA) and Xavier Drèze (University of Pennsylvania) find that the effect of similarity reverses when it comes to movies. Compared to numbered movie sequels, the researchers found that named sequels performed better at the box office and had a longer shelf life.

"With intangible experiential goods, similarity is not valued because people tend to satiate on experiences," explain the authors. "In other words, consumers prefer sequels that are markedly different from the original movie because they do not want to see the same movie twice."

Each movie released by a Hollywood studio is a brand that has to be packaged and promoted effectively to consumers. Launching these brands is an expensive activity. In 2004, the average cost of bringing a movie to market was almost $100 million. With financial stakes so high, the studios have turned to sequels as a way to capitalize on the success of hit movies.

Two experiments demonstrate that the name of the sequel is an important indicator to potential moviegoers about the similarity between original and sequel. The researchers compared sequel evaluations for a numbered title (e.g., Daredevil 2) versus a named title (e.g., Daredevil: Taking it to the Streets). Evaluations improved with named sequels because numbered sequels were perceived to be too close to the original movie. In fact, for numbered sequels, consumers were not only quicker to judge the sequel but also less able to recall details about the sequel's storyline.

The researchers also examined sequel ratings available in the Internet Movie Database website (imdb.com). The database includes over 2.8 million consumer ratings of sequels compiled over a forty-eight year period. Consistent with test results, the researchers found that named sequels were rated higher than numbered sequels. Perhaps most important for the studios, named sequels had a longer life span than numbered sequels.

Say the authors: "James Bond 21 may not be appealing, but Die Another Day grossed $431 million at the box office."

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Founded in 1974, the Journal of Consumer Research publishes scholarly research that describes and explains consumer behavior. The primary thrust of JCR is academic, rather than managerial, with topics ranging from micro-level processes (e.g., brand choice) to more macro-level issues (e.g., the development of materialistic values). Empirical, theoretical, and methodological articles spanning fields such as psychology, marketing, sociology, economics, and anthropology are featured in this interdisciplinary quarterly.

Sanjay Sood and Xavier Drèze, "Brand Extensions of Experiential Goods: Movie Sequel Evaluations." Journal of Consumer Research: December 2006.


Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Feb 2009
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