As the Academy Awards approach, a new study from Cambridge Judge Business School, based on nearly 50,000 customer reviews, questions just how ‘novel’ moviegoers really want their films to be.
The movie audience, said acclaimed director (The Dark Knight trilogy) Christopher Nolan, is “extremely ruthless in its demand for newness, novelty and freshness”. Yet as next Monday’s Academy Awards approach, a new study from Cambridge Judge Business School questions just how “novel” customers really want their films to be.
Based on 49,835 online customer reviews of 147 movies released in the US, the study just published in the journal PLOS ONE (Public Library of Science ONE) found that the highest evaluations were for films with only a “moderate level” of perceived novelty because moviegoers prefer a balance of novelty and familiarity – the sort of familiarity summed up by Walt Disney as: “do what you do so well that they will want to see it again and bring their friends”.
The study finds further that a movie director’s past reputation for creating novel films “ironically penalised” his or her subsequent novel films in the evaluation of customers; awards for movies with novel insights, content or technology motivate directors to produce additional novel films, but these later novel offerings are often viewed less favourably by customers. When a movie was produced by an award-winning director, filmgoers want a similar one to the director’s past movies, not a novel one.
Actual product novelty doesn’t match consumer perception
In addition, the authors report a “surprising finding” that actual product novelty was “unrelated to the novelty of the product as perceived by customers”, supporting the view that evaluators can fail to recognise intended novelty because people do not always perceive the same stimuli in the same way. Prior research had assumed that product novelty always shapes customers’ perceived novelty, but the authors say that to their knowledge such assumption had not been previously tested.
The study is co-authored by Cambridge Judge PhD candidate Yingyue Luan and Associate Professor in Organisational Behaviour Dr Yeun Joon Kim.
“The study questions if novelty is always good for product evaluations by customers,” says co-author Dr Yeun Joon Kim. “Some people argue that novelty should generate positive evaluations by customers because without novelty, new products do not add any value to the existing body of products as customers continue using old products. Yet others argue that novelty is bad because customers do not want to change their habits of using a product and resist learning new features.
“Our paper shows that both arguments are too extreme, and it identifies an inverted U-shaped curve between an evaluator’s perceived novelty and his or her product evaluation. We show that customers prefer only a moderate level of novelty in new products and, beyond that moderate level, they react negatively – which reflects why many arthouse-type movies, which may win industry awards and plaudits from professional critics, are not popular among customers.”
Implications of research extend beyond showbusiness
The study’s findings have implications that may extend beyond the film industry into other product development and even elections, the authors say.
In product development, “reputable” creators do not have “product archetypes” established in people’s minds so customers are more likely to emphasise how similar his/her new product is compared to existing products. This reflects the “reverse halo effect” in which people’s positive attributes hamper their efforts to attain desirable outcomes.
In elections, voters evaluate election pledges, so “candidates may face a dilemma regarding how novel their election pledges should be: on the one hand, they may feel the need to generate very novel pledges to elicit curiosity and attract citizens’ attention; on the other hand, they may not want to provoke negative evaluations by making citizens feel violated by novel pledges.”
The study data (and the quote from Christopher Nolan) is drawn from IMDb (Internet Movie Database), a much-cited online reference for films and other entertainment content that allows users to leave ratings and reviews. (The authors cross-checked data with other sources such as Box Office Mojo and The Movie Database.) The data collection focused on films released in the US in 2016, excluding movies with fewer than 100 reviews. The average rating of the 147 movies studied was 6.34 on a 10-point scale.
From crime to fantasy to romance
To assess each film’s perceived novelty, the study created a lexicon based on 21 words or word stems (including “novel”, “different”, “inspir”, “avant-garde”, “unique”, “twist” and “edge”) and then computed the proportion of novelty words. The study further judged novelty based on whether a film could easily be categorised by a popular combination (such as “crime thriller”) of the 20 genres used by IMDb (comedy, drama, romance, action, history, thriller, war, adventure, fantasy, science fiction, animation, family, horror, mystery, crime, music, biography, western, musical and sport), or whether a film required a more creative new combination of categorising genres.
Among the study’s implications for managers is that even though producers (be they companies or inventors) create novel products, their customers “may perceive these products’ novelty in a completely different way,” the study says. “However, in evaluations of new products, perceived novelty may be more important than product novelty because customers base their purchasing decisions on their subjective perception of a new product.
“In fact, our findings showed that product novelty was unrelated to the final evaluation, while perceived novelty significantly influenced it. Thus, producers should pay greater attention to and constantly check their target customers’ perception of a product’s novelty and their product evaluation in the whole process of new product development,” including through focus groups.