Scholarly Insights: AMA’s digest of the latest findings from marketing’s top researchers
According to a new study from the Journal of Marketing, there’s a reason why the later installments of the Fast and Furious franchise did significantly better at the box office than earlier sequels.
The article refers to these serialized releases as “innovation sequences.” With each installment earning more than its predecessor, we see an example of how sequels can leverage a balance between familiarity and novelty.
The authors of the study, Timothy B. Heath, Subimal Chatterjee, Suman Basuroy, Thorsten Hennig-Thurau and Bruno Kocher, identified several criteria that determines the success of sequential products such as the Fast and Furious films. Ultimately, the study finds that there is an optimal number of changes depending on where the iteration takes place in a sequence. Further, the research shows that greater changes in later developments result in an increase in positive reception.
A good example of these findings is seen in Fast Five—the fifth installment of the Fast and Furious. The film, which deviates from the franchise’s typical street-racing action for a heist-driven plot, grossed double the money that its immediate predecessor earned. The research attributes this success to the theory that consumers are drawn to serialized products for two reasons: comfort and stimulation. Comfort comes from the familiarity of the original product: A sequel comes with a guarantee that the viewer knows what to expect. Stimulation, on the other hand, comes from the fact that a sequel is still something new. As an innovation sequence progresses, the authors conclude that consumers expect stimulation over comfort in the updates, upgrades and sequels that come later in a series.
A chart showing how sequels perform with a variable number of changes.
Arguably, the reason for Fast Five’s broader success may be that its story structure appeals to audiences beyond automobile enthusiasts. Even so, the authors determine that this is not the exclusive reason since similar patterns in other products such as the iPhone exist.
Currently in its tenth model, the iPhone underwent its most significant design change between the iPhone 5 and iPhone 6 with its slimmer shape and larger display. The dramatic redesign stimulated consumers already familiar with the phone, and subsequently broke sales records for the company.
According to author Timothy Heath, Apple manages consumer expectations especially well with the use of its “s” designator. “When moving from the iPhone 6 to 6s, the “s” lowers consumer expectations relative to an increase in model number to the iPhone 7, thereby making it easier for the phone’s innovations to satisfy consumers.”
Aesthetic comparison of iPhone 5 and iPhone 6 models.
Marketers and managers of series installments who work together to measure and maximize on consumer expectations will take home a strong return on investment. Designing a system like Apple’s “S” may also help to shape consumer expectations.
“…Interspersing minor/weaker innovations among major/stronger innovations may help [those products perform better]. Sellers can then introduce less expensive, more comfort-oriented smaller innovations shortly after a major product introduction to leverage and harvest the product’s relative novelty and brand equity.
These smaller innovations also help temper consumer expectations for, and thus improve evaluations of, later iterations. Later iterations then require more stimulating innovations to revitalize the brand and restore the harvested brand equity.”
Timothy B. Heath, Subimal Chatterjee, Suman Basuroy, Thorsten Hennig-Thurau, and Bruno Kocher (2015), “Innovation Sequences over Iterated Offerings: A Relative Innovation, Comfort, and Stimulation Framework of Consumer Responses,” Journal of Marketing, 79 (6), 71-93.