Major vs. Independent:
Investigating the effects of movie distributor brand on consumers’ expected enjoyment and viewing intentions of the movie and the role of quality perception of the trailer
Isabel Soldner Student number: 13567276
Master’s programme Communication Science University of Amsterdam
Supervisor: Caroline van Straten Word count: 7,245
Date of completion: 1 July 2022
Movie distributors are the vital piece connecting movies from the production houses with the exhibitors, where the world can watch them. Over time, brands of movie distributors begin to distinguish themselves from others through unique elements or offerings (i.e., genres, actors, styles). Scholars have previously investigated the effects of movie trailer elements such as actors, genre, directors, and sequels, which impact consumer evaluations. However, little is known about how the brand of a movie distributor is related to consumer evaluations. Therefore, we
investigated the relationship between the distributors’ brand (major vs. independent) in a movie trailer and consumers’ quality perception, expected enjoyment, and viewing intentions of the movie. We experimentally investigated how the movie distributors’ brand correlates with
consumer evaluations through a 2x1 between-subjects design. We collected self-report data from 98 individuals aged 18+ through an online questionnaire. We found no effects of type of movie distributor on any of the outcome variables. Although no mediation effects could thus be found, quality perception was positively related to expected enjoyment, as well as viewing intentions, meaning participants with higher quality perceptions expected to enjoy the movie more and had higher intentions to view the movie than participants scoring low on quality perception. This research highlights the importance of conveying a high-quality perception in movie trailers in order to increase consumers’ movie evaluations. Rather than relying on the distributor brand, this study shows that by incorporating elements that signal quality (these have historically been actors, directors, etc.), movie trailer marketers can most efficiently satisfy consumers’
entertainment wants and needs. These findings help future practice shape movie trailers to show more relevant information and satisfy audiences.
As Arthur Cohn, movie producer and multiple Academy Award winner, once said, “to have a film in America means precisely nothing if you don't have a distributor who stands behind it” (Arthur Cohn Quotes). Indeed, movie distributors are the connecting piece between the movie producer and exhibitor. They identify a movie’s target audience, create ways to market the movie so it is successful at the box-office, and hold all the power in whether they even choose to buy the rights to a movie to market it (O’Hare, 2022). Distributors typically choose movies of a certain standard or quality (Litman, 1983). As distributors build their portfolios, audiences become familiar with the content that they produce. Ravid et al. (2006) identify how a movie distributor’s identity biases reviews from several movie critics. Accordingly, distributor brands may also influence the way consumers think about a movie’s overall quality (Ravid et al., 2006).
Movie trailer elements signal a certain level of quality to consumers, which gives them an idea of whether they would like to watch the movie (Finsterwalder et al., 2012). Trailers are the most effective means in the motion picture industry for promoting a movie and influencing consumer expectations (Finsterwalder et al., 2012), as they have been proven to influence a movie’s returns (Chang & Ki, 2005). So far, previous literature has found evidence that certain in-trailer elements, such as tone, genre, story, and stars, impact consumer evaluations of a movie (Hixon, 2006). Kerrigan (2010) and Elliot & Simmons (2008) came to similar conclusions, in that star power, among other elements which play into a movie’s identity such as genre, age
classification, awards, and release strategy are all considerations that influence consumers when selecting a movie to watch. However, little is known as to whether viewers’ movie evaluations already begin with the inclusion of the distributor brand in the movie trailer.
By bridging this gap, marketers can tailor trailers to fulfill the target demographic’s needs by understanding how the brand of a movie distributor impacts consumers. For instance, we could find that the brand in the trailer takes the consumers’ focus away from the movie, therefore
decreasing or eliminating the movie’s intended gratifications (i.e., escapism, humor) for the consumers. So, if the results of this research show that a major distributor’s brand is perceived better than an independent distributor’s, this informs independent movie marketers to emphasize other important trailer aspects, such as the actors or storyline, more prominently. By doing so, marketers draw attention away from the distributors’ brand itself, so that consumers receive gratifications directly.
This experiment is interested in how consumers’ perceptions of these elements (the quality of the actors, storyline, dialogue, etc.) combined may be influenced by different
distributor brands. As previous research has identified, brands alone hold the power to influence consumers’ behavior and their perception of a brand (Chovanová et al., 2015). For this reason, the present research aims to discover this potential connection—does the brand of a movie distributor in a movie trailer play a critical role in determining the movie’s success? We investigate whether a movie distributor’s brand impacts consumers’ quality perceptions and behavioral intentions to see whether consumers hold specific expectations from certain movie distributors just like they do with actors (Finsterwalder et al., 2012), or if it is not a factor they consider.
We conducted an online experiment with a 2x1 (distributor trailer: major vs. independent) between-subjects design that aimed to answer the following research question: “How do different types of distributor brands (i.e., major: Warner Bros. vs. independent: September Film) in a movie trailer influence viewers’ expected enjoyment and viewing intentions of the movie, and does their perception of the movie trailer’s overall quality mediate this effect?”
Movies are experience goods of which the quality can only be revealed once the good has been consumed by the customer (Elliott & Simmons, 2008). As a result, movie trailers exist to
help give consumers an idea of the movie’s quality by highlighting elements which convey the movie’s essence (Finsterwalder et al., 2012). In an entertainment context, a movie trailer is a short compilation of varying movie scenes that provides a one-to-three-minute preview of the cinematic experience with different aspects that emphasize the movie’s quality (Finsterwalder et al., 2012; Kernan, 2004). The movie excerpts in the trailer provide a representation of the movie’s tone, genre, story, and stars by giving viewers a “free sample” to decide whether they would want to watch the movie (Hixson, 2006). These factors combined provide the consumer with the information needed to evaluate a movie as better or worse quality, and thus, worth their time, money, and attention.
Movie trailers are similar to standard advertisements for three reasons: first, their messages highlight the offer/ movie’s features; second, they include slogans and brands; and third, they use the producer’s or manufacturer’s reputation to increase the offer/ movie’s attractiveness (Finsterwalder et al., 2012). While the end goal of movies is to sell stories rather than products, movie trailers still include traditional “selling elements” which give consumers a clearer picture of the movie’s qualities (Finsterwalder et al., 2012). Traditionally, previous research has identified these elements to include, for instance, the actors and directors involved, the genre and rating, and the budget (Finsterwalder et al., 2012; King et al., 2017; Elliot &
Simmons, 2008). For example, consumers form higher expectations of a movie that is written or directed by well-known writers and directors because they “have a proven track record” and are familiar with the quality of their work (Finsterwalder et al., 2012). These elements play a role in consumer decision-making and contribute to a movie trailer’s purpose of promoting a soon-to-be- released movie to an audience. This kind of preview reveals to the audience a sense of whether they would watch and enjoy the movie based on the characteristics presented in the trailer.
In the entertainment sphere, movie distributors are the channels by which movies are made available for viewing by the public (Clarke, 2021). A movie is most successful when many people know about it and experience a taste of it through the trailer; therefore distributors’ role as the main marketers of movies plays a crucial role in the moviemaking and release cycles (Clarke, 2021; Cox & Kaimann, 2015). Consumers select movies that provide them with the needs and wants they are looking for, such as pleasure, enjoyment, and excitement (Karray & Debernitz, 2017).
Within the movie industry, there are two basic types of movies: mainstream and arthouse movies (Gemser et al., 2007). Mainstream movies are those considered for the everyday
audience, whereas arthouse movies are designed for a niche market (Gemser et al., 2007). The two types of movies typically differ on degrees of “artistic” and “commercial” factors (Bagella &
Becchetti, 1999; Baumann, 2002). Mainstream movies typically have higher production and marketing budgets (Geer, 1998), greater levels of star power and special effects (Geer, 1998), more occupied screens within theaters (Reinstein and Snyder 2005), and content, genres, and narrative structures with broad appeal (Bordwell and Thompson, 2001).
On the other end of the spectrum, arthouse movies typically have lower budgets with limited distribution and rely more on the character and plot rather than celebrities and special effects (Geer, 1998). This indicates that arthouse movies have “poor signaling qualities”, meaning they lack "selling” the movie to the public (Gemser et al., 2007, p. 47). Litman (1983) concluded that a higher budget means that the production will reflect a higher quality due to greater access to resources. King et al. (2017) even found how credible signals of quality within trailers can influence “quality-sensitive consumers” (p. 445) and make them more likely to purchase a ticket because these types of consumers seek out something specific. Since such films target different audiences, movie distributors are known to specialize in acquiring the rights to
either mainstream movies or arthouse movies, and usually choose to distribute movies containing similar characteristics (Gemser, et al., 2007).
While mainstream films tend to be associated with major distributors like Warner Bros.
Pictures, Paramount Pictures, and Walt Disney Pictures (Davis et al., 2015), arthouse movies are usually coupled with independent distributors that screen niche movies (Gemser et al., 2007). For example, September Film is an independent movie distributor based in the Netherlands that screens socially engaged movies in theaters (O’Hare, 2022). September Film recognizes that the audiences for the types of movies they distribute “will always be less than for the big
productions” (O’Hare, 2022, para. 4). Movies that include more artistic elements receive lower investments from movie distributors and often exclusively from independent distributors (Ebbers
& Wijnberg, 2012). Distributors strategically curate the movies in their portfolios—Ebbers and Wijnberg (2012) found that, in general, movie distributors tend to invest more money in movies associated with producers whose commercial reputations and past box office performance has been historically high and well-rated.
A movie distributor’s identity plays an important role in building their reputation. Ravid et al. (2006) found that movie critic reviews are significantly affected by the identity of the movie distributor, indicating that the movie distributor could potentially have substantial effects on consumers. Other research similarly found that the more stars in a movie, “the more positive the critics’ review” (Ebbers & Wijnberg, 2012, p. 237). In both cases, the identity of the distributors’
brand and actors play a role in influencing the critics’ reviews. Therefore, the present research proposes that brands of distributors may have a similar impact on consumers’ expected
enjoyment and viewing intentions.
Consumers play an active role in their entertainment decision-making process. This active behavior allows consumers to maximize the level of gratifications they receive from
entertainment, such as various cognitive, affective, or social needs (Katz et al., 1973). This type of gratification maximization outlines the uses and gratifications theory—consumers choose a certain type of media because they receive specific fulfillment from it (Katz et al., 1973).
Previous research has revealed that individuals choose a certain piece of entertainment based on hedonistic considerations, meaning the extent to which they think they will enjoy the content (Karray & Debernitz, 2015; Katz et al., 1973). The uses and gratifications theory outlines how consumers are in control of their media consumption and actively select specific media that will fulfill these types of needs— a movie distributor’s goal is to persuade consumers to choose their product (Katz et al., 1973). Distributors achieve this though the trailer elements which highlight the movie’s credibility (i.e., stars, renowned directors, etc.)—these elements play a role in capturing consumers’ attention and can be the deciding factor of whether a consumer chooses to watch the movie (Finsterwalder et al., 2012).
Since previous research has identified mainstream movies, and thus major distributors, to be characterized by qualities such as high-profile cast members, special effects, exotic locations and elaborate sets (Geer, 1998), we can differentiate major and independent distributors on a similar factor: quality perception. Quality perception in the context of movies is defined as the overall evaluation of a movie’s quality based on one’s evaluation of the movie’s actors, directors, the style of the trailer, the amount of dialogue shown, and the plot in the storyline (Finsterwalder et al., 2012). These elements make up “signaling qualities [which] may reduce consumer
uncertainty about the quality of a movie” (Gemser et al., 2007, p. 47). Signals are the cues one uses to reduce information asymmetry between two parties (Lampel & Shamsie, 2000; Spence, 2002). Signaling theory explains how consumers make decisions in the context of movies and entertainment— “if a studio’s signals are credible, they will have a positive influence on perceived quality of the movie...” (Basuroy et al., 2006, p. 288). This could mean that since the
movie has access to the top resources possible given the large budget, consumers recognize the high-quality features of these types of movies and thus use these quality signals to potentially differentiate movies associated with major distributors from independent ones.
This type of signaling effect is where branding comes into play—brands work as a signal for consumers to recognize relevant information about a product and are crucial for companies to increase brand value (Chovanová et al., 2015). In a society where consumers are constantly surrounded by advertisements, brand reputations have become a strong influence on a consumer’s decision-making process (Chovanová et al., 2015). A consumer may choose one product over another specifically because of its brand—brands are trusted signals of quality that provide consumers with a memory of their previous experience with that brand (Chovanová et al., 2015).
It has been shown that consumers turn to brand names as signals in order to distinguish between high- and low-quality products before consumption (Wernerfelt, 1988). This is why certain movie distributors might be credible to consumers—in the context of branding, a brand extension (in this case, a movie from the same distributor) provides consumers positive product quality perceptions of a new movie release simply because it is associated with the established parent brand (Reddy et al., 1994).
Since movies are experiential products and consumers are active in their media
consumption decisions, if presented with various movie trailers, it is expected that consumers will intend to view the movies which maximize their enjoyment (Katz et al., 1973). Expected
enjoyment of a film trailer is a mental evaluation where consumers decide if they think they would enjoy watching the film (Johnson & Rosenbaum, 2018; Oliver & Bartsch, 2010). Viewing intention is a behavioral action that evaluates the extent to which a consumer would consider acting upon that thought and actually viewing the film (Johnson & Rosenbaum, 2018). Viewing
intention indicates a higher level of commitment relative to expected enjoyment because it requires an action beyond a thought.
Previous research has provided a solid understanding of the factors underpinning the qualities of movie trailers that lead to their commercial (non) success (Finsterwalder et al., 2012;
Simonton, 2009; Kerrigan, 2010; Elliot & Simmons, 2008, Gemser et al., 2007). These factors (i.e., stars, directors) act as signals representing the brand (i.e., distributor) that inform potential viewers about the level of quality of these movies. For example, the budgets for arthouse movies are much lower and include less expensive signaling qualities (i.e., high-profile actors, special effects) than mainstream films, attaching a higher value to the brands associated with the
mainstream films (Gemser et al., 2007). This type of brand association then influences consumers to form certain expectations that convince them to either watch the movie or not (Gemser et al., 2007). Thus, we hypothesize:
Hypothesis 1 (H1): Exposure to a trailer that contains a major movie distributor’s logo (Warner Bros.) will result in (i) greater expected enjoyment and (ii) stronger viewing intentions compared to exposure to a trailer that contains an independent distributor’s (September Film) logo.
Hypothesis 2 (H2): A trailer containing a major movie distributor’s logo (Warner Bros.) will result in more positive movie quality perceptions than a trailer containing an
independent movie distributor’s logo (September Film).
Higher quality perceptions of a movie based on the trailer are hypothesized to correlate positively with expected enjoyment and viewing intentions based on previous research. For example, Finsterwalder et al. (2012) found that movie trailers are the most influential factor on consumers’ movie expectations—if a movie trailer contains more expensive or renowned quality signals, such as prestigious award nominations or famous actors and directors, consumers have
higher movie expectations (Finsterwalder et al., 2012). Essentially, because a consumer has previous knowledge or positive experiences with factors involved in the current movie they are considering, they assume that it will be of similar quality in the current situation and are more convinced to think they will enjoy and watch the movie (Finsterwalder et al., 2012; Chovanová et al., 2015). This effect shows how brands, such as an actor’s personal brand, build strong
consumer loyalty because the customer knows the level of quality they will receive based on past experiences—if this quality was high in the past, they can trust that it could be high again in a new situation (Chovanová et al., 2015).
A higher quality perception can result in more positive or lucrative outcomes, such as higher movie expectations (Finsterwalder et al., 2012; Karray & Debernitz, 2017) and greater box office performance (Chang & Ki, 2005; Litman, 1983). The end goal of any movie is to perform well, whether that is commercially or culturally. King et al. (2017) write that if a consumer believes a movie to be of high quality based on quality signals like the actors involved, they will be more likely to buy a ticket to that movie. Similarly, Basuroy et al. (2006) found that if
consumers find the studio associated with a film to be credible, that they will have a higher perceived movie quality, and thus, higher box-office revenue.
Movies success has previously been measured by box office performance or cultural impact (Chang & Ki, 2005)—this study focuses on expected enjoyment and viewing intentions as measures of movie trailer success. Expected enjoyment and viewing intentions are two factors that have been under-researched in the context of movie distributor branding effects. We know that consumer expectations of a movie are dependent on the trailer elements (actors, budget, etc.) (Finsterwalder et al., 2012; Chovanová et al., 2015; Basuroy et al., 2006). Since movie trailers contain cues which build their movie expectations, we hypothesize that quality perception mediates this effect:
Hypothesis 3 (H3): A higher perception of movie quality will result in (i) greater
expected enjoyment and (ii) greater viewing intentions than a lower perception of movie quality.
Hypothesis 4 (H4): The effect of the depiction of a major movie distributor’s logo
(Warner Bros.) as compared to an independent movie distributor’s logo (September Film) in a movie trailer on (i) expected enjoyment and (ii) viewing intentions is mediated by movie quality perception.
The goal of this experimental study is to understand how the brand of a movie distributor (major vs. independent) in a trailer impacts consumer evaluations of the movie and subsequent behavioral intentions through the quality perception of the trailer. Data was collected through an online Qualtrics survey in May 2022.
While N = 133 participants began the survey, 34 did not complete it and one did not consent to analyzing their data. A total of N = 98 participants consented to take part in the study (65 female, 32 male; a single participant preferred not to disclose their gender). Participants ranged in age from 18 to 75 years, with a mean age of 34.98 years (SD = 16.13). There were no limitations to the age range (except that participants had to be older than 16 years due to ethical
reasons) because it has been shown that all ages are relatively equal in movie-going likelihood (Farrand, 2018). The sample was recruited using convenience and snowball sampling.
Convenience and snowball sampling are at risk of resulting in biased results but they suffice to answer the principal research question and allow us to understand the hypotheses by obtaining a range of attitudes and opinions about the topic. Participants were randomly assigned to
experimental conditions. There were no significant differences in age (F(1, 96) = .182, p = .671, part. η2 = 0.002) and gender (𝜒2 (1, N = 98) = 2.35, p = .309) across the conditions, which indicates that the randomization procedure was successful.
Participants viewed a movie trailer which was identical across the experimental
conditions (i.e., major vs. independent), except for the distributor logos shown. The trailers are the original Elvis trailer for the film set to be released 23 June 2022. The pre-test and main study contained self-made versions of the trailer for the movie Elvis. The trailers were edited in iMovie and focused on the manipulation of the distributor logo. This movie is, in reality, distributed by Warner Bros. and not by September Film. Thus, participants saw the trailer including the Warner Bros. logo as it exists outside of the context of this research. The September Film version was edited to include the September Film logo in place of the Warner Bros. logo. This trailer included an adjusted version of the original September Film logo—the color of the logo was changed from blue to yellow so that it looked more retro, and to match the aesthetic of the vintage yellow Warner Bros. logo in the original trailer (figure 1). This was done so the discrepancy between the believability of the trailer would not be vastly different from the original. Both logos appeared at the same point in the trailer, within the first 15 seconds.
Final stimuli material (Warner Bros. and September Film)
Major movie distributors are defined as the “dominant species in the film industry” and created for the mass market, whereas independent distributor movies are for more specific audiences and typically more out of sight (Gemser et al., 2007). As previously stated, Warner Bros. was chosen to represent in the major distributor category due to its prestige, and September Film in the independent distributor category for its tendency to show both meaningful movies and a few that have had some international success, such as Parasite and Druk (O’Hare, 2022).
The trailer, Elvis, was chosen because it was pre-existing with a movie release date after the data collection timeframe. This was strategically done so that the movie would not be released before data was collected. The original trailer already included the Warner Bros. logo which limits the level of artificiality to some extent by using pre-existing assets. However, pairing the same trailer with the September Film logo also introduces some level of artificiality since this combination does not actually exist in real life. On the other hand, using the same stimuli (except for the manipulation of the logo) allows for similarity across conditions and therefore maintains external validity.
A pre-test was conducted in order to verify the believability of the stimuli material. The pre-test showed both movie trailer conditions, Warner Bros. (major distributor condition) and
September Film (independent distributor condition), to 20 participants. Each participant saw both trailers, making it within-subjects. Half of the participants saw the Warner Bros. trailer first, while the other half saw the September Film trailer first. They were asked whether they thought there was a difference in believability between the two trailers. The participants in the pre-test were not part of the main sample.
The two items in the pre-test used 7-point Likert scales (1 = extremely unbelievable, 7 = extremely believable) and asked participants whether they thought the September Film trailer was believable and whether they thought the Warner Bros. trailer was believable. These scores were then averaged into means per trailer. We ran a dependent t-test using SPSS Statistics V. 28.01 to compare the mean believability scores of the two trailers. There was a significant difference in the scores for the Warner Bros. trailer (M = 6.35, SD = 1.23) and the September Film trailer (M = 5.45, SD = 1.54), t(19) = 3.45, p = .003. This means that participants thought there to be a
significant difference between the two trailer conditions. Upon asking participants why they thought the Warner Bros. trailer was more believable than the other, some explained that they could both be edited to look more vintage, so the amount of “vintage effect” is the same.
Participants thought that the vintage filter would fit both versions because the scenes in the trailer of the movie already showed a retro/ vintage effect. Therefore, the same filter was added on top of both logos in each trailer, and then added into the main survey to progress with research. Due to time constraints, the adjusted stimulus materials were not pretested again.
The questionnaire was distributed through anonymous links on Instagram, LinkedIn, Facebook, and WhatsApp. Upon clicking on the link, participants were first shortly informed about the topic of the study (i.e., trailer perceptions) and provided with details outlining their data protection rights, meaning that their data is collected anonymously and that their data cannot be
deleted after submission of the survey due to the anonymity of the survey. After agreeing to the conditions, the study began by asking some demographic questions such as age and gender. If the participant was younger than 16 years or did not agree to the stated terms, they were directed to the end of the survey.
Participants were then randomly presented with one trailer showcasing one of the
conditions, either from the major or independent distributor. The trailer had a timer on the page, so that participants could not proceed without watching the entire video. After watching the trailer, participants were first asked their quality perception, then expected enjoyment, and lastly viewing intentions of the movie based on the trailer. Respondents were then asked a control question on whether they had already seen the trailer. If they had already seen the trailer, they were then asked if they noticed anything different from the first time they had seen the trailer. If they selected that they noticed something different, they were asked to fill in the blank and write what specifically was different. If they had not already seen the trailer, they were immediately directed to the treatment check, which asked participants to recall the brand they saw via a fill in the blank text box. The survey concluded by asking the participant if they would like to consent to submitting their data for analysis and with a debrief, revealing the main purpose of the study to the participant. After excluding one outlier (only when testing completion time) by calculating the z scores, we found that participation in the study took 13.52 minutes on average to complete.
The measures in this experiment were all close ended (except for part of the measure regarding familiarity with the trailer; see above) and measured on a specific response scale. The participants’ beliefs about expected enjoyment were assessed using 12 items on a 7-point Likert scale (see appendix) where 1 = strongly disagree and 7 = strongly agree (Johnson & Rosenbaum, 2018). Viewing intentions were measured using 3 items on a 5-point Likert scale where 1 =
strongly disagree and 5 = strongly agree (Johnson & Rosenbaum, 2018) (appendix). Quality perception was measured using 4 items on a 7-point Likert scale where 1 = strongly disagree and 7 = strongly agree (appendix). The order of the items per scale was randomized to prevent any bias.
In the context of movie trailers, expected enjoyment is defined as a mental evaluation consumers derive from watching the trailer and deciding to what extent they would enjoy the movie based on different characteristics presented in the trailer such as genre, storyline, and actors (Johnson & Rosenbaum, 2018; Oliver & Bartsch, 2010).
A confirmatory factor analysis with principal axis factoring and direct oblimin rotation indicated the scale was bidimensional (two components with Eigenvalue above 1.00, E.V. = 6.07, E.V. = 1.37), explaining 62.01% of the variance in the 12 items. Therefore, we continued with the
factor that had the highest Eigenvalue, which consisted of nine significant items that formed a new scale (see appendix), namely “Expected Enjoyment Emotional”, (M = 4.26, SD = 1.07, skewness = 0.053, kurtosis = -0.341), and was reliable, Cronbach’s α = .89.
Viewing intention is a behavioral intention defined as a person’s desire to see the movie.
A confirmatory factor analysis with principal axis factoring and direct oblimin rotation indicated the scale was unidimensional (one component with Eigenvalue above 1.00, E.V. = 2.56),
explaining 85.32% of the variance in the three items. The 3-item scale, named “Viewing Intention”, (M = 3.67, SD = 1.08, skewness = -0.680, kurtosis = -0.241), proved reliable, Cronbach’s α = .91.
Quality perception in this entertainment context refers to movie quality, or the overall quality of a movie based on various elements which signal quality (Zeithaml, 1988). Prior
research has identified these to be actors, directors, the style of the trailer, the amount of dialogue shown, and the plot in the storyline (Finsterwalder et al., 2012; Elliot and Simmons, 2008).
Therefore, quality perception in this study was assessed by measuring participants’ retrospective evaluations about the quality of the actors, storyline, visual design, and dialogues. Averaging these quality perception scores together can give insight into the overall quality perception of a movie’s trailer. Some of these items were chosen from Elliot and Simmons’ (2008) research where they created a “quality vector” with movie-related quality signals, including prior U.S box office record, budget, presence of stars and high-profile directors, and award nominations (p.
101). Some of these elements were excluded, namely U.S. box office record, budget, and award nominations, because in the present study, they are not directly observable in the movie trailer.
Instead, three other elements, namely plot, visual design, and dialogue were added based off Finsterwalder et al. (2012) and Karray & Debernitz’s (2017) research indicating these elements to signify quality.
A confirmatory factor analysis with principal axis factoring and direct oblimin rotation indicated the scale was unidimensional (one component with Eigenvalue above 1.00, E.V. = 2.31), explaining 57.62% of the variance in the four items. The scale was internally consistent (Cronbach’s α = .74). We averaged the items into a mean (index) score of “perceived trailer quality” (M = 5.72, SD = 0.85, skewness = -0.757, kurtosis = 0.537).
The data were analyzed using SPSS Statistics (version 28). The data were normally distributed when tested for skewness and kurtosis since they ranged between – 1 and 1 (Field, 2009). Levene’s test results also indicated the data had equal variance. A chi-square test was used
to test the treatment check. Multiple One-way ANCOVAs were used to test hypotheses 1 and 2.
Andrew Hayes’ PROCESS macro (model 4; 5,000 bootstrapped samples) was used to test
hypotheses 3 and 4 (Hayes, 2018). Movie distributor was used as the predictor, quality perception as the mediator, and expected enjoyment and viewing intention as the dependent variables. We controlled for the possibility that participants had already seen the trailer and potentially noticed a difference in the original trailer they saw and the experimental trailer. Since the results of the ANCOVAs and PROCESS did not change with the addition of the control variable, we only report the results of the tests without the control variable.
Results Preliminary Analyses
Out of 45 participants in the Warner Bros. condition, 10 participants (22.2%) correctly recalled the distributor brand in the treatment check. This number of participants is significantly different from the 53 participants in the September Film condition, of whom 2 people (3.8%) correctly recalled the distributor, 𝜒2 (1, N = 98) = 9.04, p = .003. This indicates that the treatment check failed since the number of participants who were able to recall the brand correctly differed significantly in each condition.
Tests of Hypotheses
According to H1, a trailer displaying a major movie distributor’s logo (Warner Bros.) would result in (i) greater expected enjoyment and (ii) stronger viewing intentions compared to exposure to a trailer that contains an independent distributor’s (September Film) logo.
Participants’ expected enjoyment in the Warner Bros. condition (M = 4.09, SD = 1.13) and the September Film condition (M = 4.40, SD = 1.01) did not differ significantly from each other, F(1, 96) = 2.048, p = .156, part. η2 = 0.021. Additionally, participants’ viewing intentions in the
Warner Bros. condition (M = 3.70, SD = 1.07) and the September Film condition (M = 3.64, SD = 1.10) did not differ significantly from each other, F(1, 96) = .062, p = .804, part. η2 = 0.001.
Thus, H1 was not supported.
Furthermore, H2 stated that a trailer containing a major movie distributor’s logo (Warner Bros.) would result in more positive movie quality perceptions than a trailer containing an independent movie distributor’s logo (September Film). The results showed that participants’
quality perception in the Warner Bros. condition (M = 5.68, SD = 0.97) and the September Film condition (M = 5.76, SD = 0.73) did not differ significantly from each other, F(1, 96) = .251, p = .617, part. η2 = 0.003. Thus, H2 was not supported.
Next, H3 stated that a higher perception of movie quality would result in (i) greater expected enjoyment and (ii) greater viewing intentions than a lower perception of movie quality.
The relationship between quality perception and expected enjoyment, b = 0.626, SE = 0.112, p <
.001, [95% CI 0.404; 0.847], and quality perception and viewing intention, b = 0.671, SE = 0.112, p < .001, [95% CI 0.449; 0.892] were significant, indicating that persons scoring higher on
quality perception are more likely to expect to enjoy the movie and more likely to intend to view the movie than those scoring low on quality perception. Thus, H3 was supported.
Lastly, H4 stated the effect of the depiction of a major movie distributor’s logo (Warner Bros.) as compared to an independent movie distributor’s logo (September Film) in a movie trailer on (i) expected enjoyment and (ii) viewing intentions is mediated by movie quality perception. Our analyses show that the indirect effect of movie distributor on expected enjoyment, b = 0.054, SE = 0.113, [95% CI -0.154; 0.291], and the indirect effect of movie distributor on viewing intention, b = 0.058, SE = 0.119, [95% CI -0.162; 0.315] indicated that quality perception did not mediate the effect of movie distributor on expected enjoyment and viewing intention. Thus, H4 was not supported.
This study experimentally investigated whether the brand of a major versus independent movie distributor influences viewers’ expected enjoyment and viewing intentions through the level of quality perception. We found that a higher perception of movie quality based on the trailer is related to higher expected enjoyment and viewing intentions. However, we found no effect of distributor brand (major vs. independent) on participants’ quality perception, expected enjoyment, and viewing intentions. Accordingly, we found no indirect effect of distributor brand through quality perception on expected enjoyment and viewing intentions.
The outcomes of the treatment check may explain the lack of findings. That is, if only 26% of participants remembered the brand of the distributor in the trailer they watched, then the results may inaccurately represent the effect we were trying to investigate. The brand of the major distributor was recalled more often than the brand of the independent one. This is most likely due to the prominence of the brand—with international name recognition, beloved movie franchises, and an inception that dates back to 1923, Warner Bros. is easily recognizable to the average entertainment consumer today (Britannica). September Film, on the other hand, is relatively new to the distributing business and mainly operates within the Netherlands. This treatment check helps uncover how the salience of Warner Bros. and obscurity of September Film may bias the results of the study.
Alternatively, distributor brands in a trailer may not be related to consumers’ perception of the quality of a movie, expected enjoyment, or viewing intentions because brand is not a factor that consumers take into consideration when choosing their entertainment. Perhaps, the
distributor brand does not tell consumers about the movie’s quality, expected enjoyment, or viewing intention, and rather other elements, for example writers and directors (Simonton, 2009), communicate the quality of the screenplay which are of primary importance to the consumers. It
is possible that a consumer may have noticed the brand in the trailer, but if they like the contents of the trailer (i.e., storyline, genre, actors), the brand might not be strong enough to dissuade them from expecting to enjoy or watching the film (Loggerenberg et al., 2021).
Possibly, the timing and frequency of the brand’s appearance within a trailer influences its impact. Previous research has identified that brands are recalled more consistently when placed at the beginning of commercials (Baker et al., 2004). It has also been found that a “pulsing
strategy”, where brands are shown more frequently throughout a commercial, decreases
consumers’ tendency to avoid commercials (Teixeira et al., 2008). Therefore, since movie trailers already show the distributor brand at the beginning, we suggest also briefly showing the
distributor logo at the end of the trailer. When the brand only appears at the beginning of the trailer, it is possible that consumers have forgotten the brand by the time the trailer is over. Thus, a distributor’s brand might leave more of an impression once the consumers have finished watching the trailer and the brand is fresh on their minds (Teixeira et al., 2008). If further research finds that adding the distributor logo again at the end of movie trailers more effectively influences consumer evaluations, this could inform distributors and trailer-creators of the best way to advertise.
While the overall mediation effect of quality perception was insignificant, the direct path of quality perception’s correlation with expected enjoyment and viewing intentions was
significant. This indicates that a higher quality perception is positively correlated with a higher level of expected enjoyment and viewing intentions. These results are in line with Finsterwalder et al.’s (2012) findings showing that the quality of dialogue in a movie influences consumers’
movie expectations positively. This finding is theoretically important because it implies that a high movie quality perception may positively influence the commercial success of a movie. In this scenario, consumers indeed seek to fulfill their entertainment gratifications (uses and
gratifications theory) by fulfilling their desire for higher enjoyment and viewing intentions with movies which, in their eyes, contain a higher quality (Katz et al., 1973). Thus, implementing elements which specifically boost quality perception of a movie into a trailer (previous research has identified the actors and directors) can play a pivotal role in garnering consumer attention (Finsterwalder et al., 2012).
Previous research has identified that transmitting quality perceptions to audiences during the advertising stage of a movie is important because it results in higher box office sales (Elliot &
Simmons, 2008). In their research, Elliot & Simmons (2008) concluded that movie advertising’s purpose is to generate awareness among audiences about a movie’s level of quality. These signals of quality included critical reviews, budget size, award nominations, and US box office
performance—the higher these signals were, the greater (UK) the box office revenues (Elliot &
Simmons, 2008). Similarly, the present study investigated whether quality perception indeed increased the outcome variables, in this case expected enjoyment and viewing intentions. In both studies, the results showed that higher quality perceptions resulted in more positive outcomes.
This informs us that quality perception plays a crucial role in determining the success of a film and can direct future practice to focus on elements which enhance a movie’s quality perception in order to receive greater results.
Limitations & Future Research
This study has at least two limitations. First, due to time constraints, we were unable to pre-test the stimulus materials a second time. The results of the initial pre-test showed that there was a significant difference between the believability of the stimuli materials. We asked
participants what they found to be different and incorporated their feedback with the aim of making the stimuli appear equally believable. However, as we did not test the believability of the adapted materials, we cannot be certain that the adaptations were sufficient to reach this goal. If
not, this limits the similarity of the stimuli material in this experiment and thus potentially the results of the manipulation.
Second, the trailer may not have been properly viewed since it was not tested in a
controlled setting. While there was a timer on the page that prohibited participants from skipping forward without watching the entire trailer, it is possible that some participants paused the video and waited until they could move forward. This limits the validity of the results since we cannot determine which participants actually paid attention to the (entire) video, and which did not.
Due to limited time and resources, this study was only able to use 98 responses in the analysis. For methodological purposes, future studies should aim to gather a larger sample size to gain a more accurate and representative picture of the effects of a movie distributor’s brand on the movie’s quality perception, expected enjoyment, and viewing intentions.
The results of this study provide some helpful information for future practice. The results show that quality perception of a trailer is important for consumers when deciding whether to watch a movie. Finsterwalder et al. (2012) write how in a similar situation where directors were displayed and tested for impact on quality perception, this effect only held true for a select few directors. Therefore, they recommended that future practice should focus on connecting the movie to the director’s previous successful pieces because it gives consumers a real-world point of reference from which they can judge the present movie (Finsterwalder et al., 2012).
In the present study, we found that the level of movie quality perception is positively correlated with consumer outcomes. Therefore, since Finsterwalder et al. (2012) found that associating directors with previous examples of their work is important for consumers to build quality perceptions, we first suggest connecting the same idea but rather with the distributors’
previous work. This connection helps increase consumers’ associations of quality between the new movie and the distributor by identifying other movies in the distributors’ portfolios. As
previously mentioned, brand extensions, such as films related to one distributor, create positive product quality perceptions for consumers (Reddy et al., 1994). This practical implication can potentially result in increased ticket sales and consumer enjoyment of movie, which could help independent distributors, especially.
Second, in relation to the content of the study, it would be interesting for further research to investigate how the adding a placement of the distributor brand at the end of the trailer changes consumer evaluations. Perhaps findings will be more pronounced with the addition of the brand at the end of a movie trailer because at this point, the movie trailer has piqued consumers' interest and the distributor’s brand is still fresh in their minds (Messina, 2018).
Finally, a third avenue for future research that might be interesting to test is a different mediating variable. Previous research has identified how movie distributors build identities which communicate a certain reputation to consumers (Ravid et al., 2006). Reputation can include factors related to brand equity (i.e., historical presence, reviews, awards, number of movies) or goodwill (i.e., brand name, brand awareness) (Eccles et al., 2014). It would be interesting to understand how distributors’ reputation correlates to consumers’ quality perceptions, expected enjoyment, and viewing intentions. Understanding how reputation interacts with distributor brand and consumer evaluations could further advance our understanding of the effects of distributor brands on the consumer decision-making process. The findings could inform movie release and marketing strategies accordingly, depending on whether the brand helps, is neutral, or hurts its chances of being successful.
In short, we can take away that movie marketing is likely less about the distributor brands, and rather more about the content. These findings help shape future research to focus on in-trailer elements, whether that is optimizing the timing and appearance of the director, actor, or effects within the trailer. Quality perception plays an important role in a consumer’s decision-making
process and can be increased by connecting the movie with other recognizable and high-quality movies (Finsterwalder et al., 2012). The findings of the present study reinforce that the focus of entertainment should be on the consumer—movies are outlets for consumers to fulfill their entertainment needs and wants, and by optimizing the vehicles which bring consumers to the cinema, movies can successfully capture and satisfy broader audiences.
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Appendix Measurement Scales Expected Enjoyment Scale
Expected enjoyment scale by Johnson & Rosenbaum (2018) adapted from Oliver & Bartsch (2010); 7-point Likert scale (1- strongly disagree, 7- strongly agree)
1. It would be fun for me to watch this movie.
2. I would have a good time watching this movie.
3. The movie would be entertaining.
4. I think this movie would be very meaningful.
5. I would be moved by this movie.
6. The movie would be thought provoking.
7. This movie would stick with me for a long time 8. I know I would never forget this movie.
9. The movie would leave me with a lasting impression.
10. I would be at the edge of my seat while watching this movie.
11. This would be a heart-pounding kind of movie.
12. The movie would be suspenseful.
Expected Enjoyment Emotional Scale (factor analysis) 7-point Likert scale (1- strongly disagree, 7- strongly agree)
1. I think this movie would be very meaningful.
2. I would be moved by this movie.
3. The movie would be thought provoking.
4. This movie would stick with me for a long time
5. I know I would never forget this movie.
6. The movie would leave me with a lasting impression.
7. I would be at the edge of my seat while watching this movie.
8. This would be a heart-pounding kind of movie.
9. The movie would be suspenseful.
Viewing Intention Scale
Viewing intention scale by Johnson & Rosenbaum, 2018; 5-point Likert scale (1 - strongly disagree, 5 - strongly agree)
1. I intend to watch this movie.
2. I will try to watch this movie.
3. I will watch this movie in the future.
Perceived Trailer Quality Scale
Perceived trailer quality scale; 7-point Likert scale (1- strongly disagree, 7- strongly agree) 10. The quality of the acting in this trailer is high.
11. The quality of the storyline of this trailer is high.
12. The quality of the visual design of this trailer is high.
13. The quality of the dialogues in this trailer is high.