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Winning box office with the right movie synopsis

Yu-Chen Hung (Singapore University of Social Sciences, Singapore, Singapore)
Chong Guan (Singapore University of Social Sciences, Singapore, Singapore)

European Journal of Marketing

ISSN: 0309-0566

Article publication date: 21 February 2020

Issue publication date: 5 March 2020

Abstract

Purpose

Consumers often search for movie information and purchase tickets on the go. A synopsis is often provided by producers and theatres in mobile apps and websites. However, to the best of the authors’ knowledge, little research has investigated whether the synopsis has an impact on a movie’s box office. This research uses computerized text analysis in examining the influence of linguistic cues of a synopsis on the movie’s financial performance. This paper aims to show that language choice in a synopsis is a significant factor in predicting box office performance.

Design/methodology/approach

A total usable sample of 5973 movies was collected using a web crawler. Computerised text analysis using linguistic inquiry and word count was adopted to analyse the movie synopses data. The empirical study comprises two phases. Phase 1 used exploratory factor analysis on 50 per cent of the sample (Sample 1) to establish the dimensionality of psychological processes as reflected in the linguistic expressions. The analysis identified 11 linguistic variables that loaded on four dimensions. The factor structure was replicated on an independent sample (Sample 2) using confirmatory factor analysis. Phase 2 tested the hypotheses using structure equation modelling.

Findings

Results show that consistency between movie genres and linguistic cues in a film synopsis promotes movie box office revenue when linguistic cues shown in the synopsis confirm a consumer’s expectancies about a focal movie genre. Conversely, a synopsis reduces the movie box office revenue when the linguistic cues shown disconfirm the genre-based expectancies. These linguistic cues exert similar effects on action and crime films but different effects on comedies and drama films.

Research limitations/implications

It is likely that consumer tastes and linguistic styles of film synopses have evolved over time. As a cross-sectional study, such changes were not taken into consideration in the current research. A longitudinal study in the future can reveal the dynamic relationship between film synopses and audience.

Practical implications

Managerially, the findings show that a synopsis is an effective communication touch point to position a movie. This research provides concrete guidelines in crafting synopses with the “rights words’ aligned with movie-goers’ expectations within each specific genre. Beyond movie consumption, the research findings can be applied to other entertainment products, such as TV series and books.

Originality/value

To our knowledge, this research is the first in studying the linguistic cues in synopses and its relation to box office performance. It addresses this knowledge gap by answering the basic question of whether movie synopses matter. Methodically, the paper marks the first attempt to use the two-step structural equation modelling method on computerised content analysis data.

Keywords

Citation

Hung, Y.-C. and Guan, C. (2020), "Winning box office with the right movie synopsis", European Journal of Marketing, Vol. 54 No. 3, pp. 594-614. https://doi.org/10.1108/EJM-01-2019-0096

Publisher

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Emerald Publishing Limited

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