Spoiler alert – reviews that reveal a movie’s plot can actually draw a bigger audience and more box-office dollars, particularly if the film is otherwise floating beneath moviegoers’ radar.
So even if you don’t want to learn who lives and who dies in Avengers: Endgame; why the little boy in The Sixth Sense sees dead people; or who the real Keyser Söze is in The Usual Suspects – even if you don’t want to know any of that, it’s a good bet a fulsome forewarning could generate even more box-office bucks.
That’s the latest from a Western University-led study by Jun Hyun (Joseph) Ryoo, an Ivey Business School doctoral candidate, Ivey Business School professor Shane Wang and Houston University professor Shijie Lu.
“I’m a big fan of the entertainment industry and it’s just such an intuitive question – do spoiler alerts really keep moviegoers away? – that it deserved to be answered by providing a new metric,” said Ryoo, a movie buff who would rather not know a film’s plot twists before viewing it.
“In my personal case, I’m a big fan of Marvel movies and when they’re released, I always avoid the spoilers.”
But rather than trust his personal sample size of one, Ryoo wanted to develop an objective measurement to help marketers understand the net effect of spoilers.
He and fellow researchers analyzed box office revenues for almost 1,000 films released in the US during a five-year span. They analyzed thousands of reviews, then devised a ‘spoiler intensity metric’ that gauged how much information the reviewers revealed about the plot and ending and they cross-referenced these with box-office sales in their first eight weeks of release.
In the end, they found, spoilers tend to benefit films with moderate or mixed reviews. This is especially the case for movies that that are lesser-known, have a smaller advertising budget or have a limited release.
“The independent, experimental, avante garde films – these movies tend to increase ‘purchase concern’ because of quality uncertainty,” Ryoo said.
Trailers and reviews that provided more information than simply a star rating or barebones précis of the action help decrease that uncertainty, he said.
They also tested the thesis by designing spoiler and non-spoiler video clips and reviews for the thriller, Before I Go to Sleep and the animated film, Rise of the Guardians and quizzed volunteers about their willingness to watch each movie.
For subjects who started the session unsure if they’d be interested in watching the full film, “reading a more ‘spoiled’ review increased their willingness to watch the movie,” the study found.
Even though the pandemic has led to a steep drop in theatre-going – a report from PricewaterhouseCoopers estimated a 65-per-cent decline, to about $15.5 billion, in worldwide box office and advertising revenue last year – movie revenues continue to thrive, largely because of streaming platforms and video-on-demand.
Wang, who specializes in word-of-mouth advertising said the research study, published in the Journal of Marketing, has implications for movie advertisers and marketers.
“They can think about the budget and try to allocate their funds better after a movie release.” That might mean ad firms should, in addition to producing trailers, consider promoting buzz online that may include fulsome plot reveals by consumers.
In the later-than-usual run-up to movie awards season (the Oscars are set to be awarded in April instead of the usual February ceremony), those advertising decisions could become more important in tipping the scales between a movie that flops or flies.
The study also suggests online movie-review sites can play an important role in moviegoers’ decisions, although Ryoo said such platforms should keep spoiler-warning labels so readers can choose whether they want to read them.
Added Ryoo, “All we’re essentially saying is if consumers are highly uncertain about seeing a movie, and spoilers provide more information about it, consumers are on average more likely – not less likely – to make that purchasing decision. For those who have no intention of watching the movie or plan to watch it anyway, spoiler reviews are expected to make no difference in their plans.”