The early IMAX gets the impatient worm

Nowadays, many movies are released on both regular 2D screens and the more expensive 3D or IMAX screens at the same time.  For example, being a Batman nerd, I know that The Dark Knight was released on July 18, 2008.  On that day, the movie was released on both regular screens and IMAX screens; you could choose which version you wanted to see.  Common stuff, especially with 3D movies, which are becoming more and more ubiquitous.  However, Paramount is doing something a little different with the new Mission Impossible movie.  For the first time in the US, the IMAX version of the movie will be released a full 5 days before the regular version (*1).

There are likely people who were already planning on seeing the movie in IMAX, so for them, this news is not disruptive in any way.  But what about the people who want to see the movie as soon as the can, but do not want to pay the higher price for the IMAX ticket?  Paramount is undoubtedly hoping that these people will bite the bullet and pay the extra cash to see the movie sooner.  From a marketing perspective, this approach is very clever, because chances are, people will do just that: they will bite the bullet, and they will see the movie in IMAX, even though the wouldn’t if the regular version were available for viewing.

I could probably make the case that this event relates to the psychological concept of cognitive closure, which states that people want to end ambiguity and gain a firm understanding of an event or situation (*2).  It could very well be true; there may be some folks who really want to see the movie, learn the plot, maybe find out what the deal is with that big building-running stunt, and they want this closure to come as soon as possible.  I could probably make that case, but frankly, I think the situation is overall much more simple: people want to experience fun things as soon as possible.  Simple.  If there’s a new movie coming out, or a new album being released, or anything else that you’re excited for, would you rather get it sooner or later?  Sooner, of course; who wants to wait?  The question is, are you willing to pay more to get it sooner, and avoid that wait?  This is why “Two-day Shipping” exists; some people simply do not want to wait, and Paramount knows that.  The ticket price for IMAX may be as much as double that of a normal ticket, but I can personally attest that, as a movie fan, sometimes you just need to see a movie on opening day.

The interesting thing to consider is the approach that Paramount used here.  Paramount originally said that M:I4 would be released on 12/21.  Then, a while later, they announced that IMAX screenings would begin on 12/16.  In the mind of an eager consumer, that is 5 days sooner.  Sure, it’ll cost more, but the movie is going to be available sooner.  The thought is “If I pay more, I’ll see it early.  If I don’t, it’ll be as though nothing changed.  I’ll just see it on 12/21, like I was planning.”  But what if Paramount did the opposite?  What if they announced that the movie would be released on 12/16, but then later announced that only the IMAX version would be available that day, and the regular version wouldn’t be available until 12/21?  For a consumer not interested in IMAX, that is 5 days later.  The consumer is getting hustled into paying more, and will feel angry as a result.

Normally, I try to find to find an esoteric, intellectual, psychological concept at play in the events I discuss.  There’s nothing like that here, or at least nothing that I wouldn’t have to really stretch and strain to make work.  Fact is, people like to get nice things sooner rather than later.  Regardless, this is an interesting marketing strategy, and I’m curious to see how it plays out.

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(*1) – “Mission:Impossible Ghost Protocol Confirmed for Early IMAX Release,” Brian Gallagher (Source)

(*2) – “Cognitive closure” (Source)

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Anti-greed couture, only $22

Values are important in business.  Companies like Whole Foods Market and Zappos have succeeded, in part, because they adhere to certain values and principles that are important to both the employees and the consumers.  For the employees, the values dictate the culture of the organization.  They act as guidelines to inform the employees of what the company believes, what its priorities are, and why it does what it does.  When the values are strongly emphasized, an organizational cutlure can flourish, which can in turn attract and retain the employees who identify with that culture and those values.  However, when the purported values of an organization do not match up with the practiced values, and when the organizational culture does not match the culture that the employees expected, the consequences can include “lower job satisfaction, higher job strain, general stress, and turnover intent” among the employees (*1).  What about consumers, though?  How does this mismatch between reported values and actual values play out external to the organization?  Well, we can look the Jay-Z for the answer.

The Occupy Wall Street movement is deeply entrenched in the American political, social, and cultural landscape by now.  As a means of showing support for the movement, rapper Jay-Z developed a new t-shirt for his Rocawear clothing line, with the motto “Occupy WAll StreetS” written on it (*2).  However, any solidarity that Jay-Z may have briefly enjoyed with the OWS protesters was washed away almost immediately.  The question quickly arose as to what would be done with the revenues from sales of the shirt; would the money be donated to the OWS protesters?  A Rocawear spokesman explicitly said that Rocawear had made no “official commitment to monetarily support the movement,” leading many people to question whether or not Jay-Z is using an anti-corporate greed movement to help make himself some more money (*3).  Ironic, absolutely, and rather damaging to the value system of Rocawear in general and of Jay-Z personally.  An artist named Daniel Edwards just recently created a totem-pole-esque statue of Jay-Z and other infamous rich-and-greedy characters from pop culture, namely Mr. Burns, Scrooge McDuck, and Richie Rich (*4).

By seemingly supporting one value system (that of the 99%), but taking action as to suggest an adherence to another value system (that of the 1%), Jay-Z damaged his name and his company’s name.  Whether dealing with human resource issues within the organization or the marketing issues in the external environment, a disparity between proposed values and practiced values is always going to cause problems.

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(*1) – Organizational psychology, Jex & Britt, 2008; p. 467.

(*2) – (Source)

(*3) – “Is Jay-Z Trying to Profit From Occupy Wall Street,” Karlee Weinmann, Business Insider; 11-10-2011 (Source)

(*4) – “Jay-Z’s Occupy Wall Street T-shirt inspires totem pole sculpture of 1 percenters,” Sarah Anne Hughes, The Washington Post; 11-23-2011 (Source)

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A Salman by any other name…

Social media is a powerful and essential tool for self-marketing.  Sites like Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn can all be used to help someone market themself because it allows them to develop a personal brand.  This strategy is most effective when the sites are used together to build a network that establishes and confirms a singular and well-known personal brand.  However, it’s important to remember that these sites should be working together, and presenting the same messages and values.  If the message presented by someone’s Facebook clashes with the message presented by their blog or Twitter, then a simple and effective brand cannot be developed.  After all, a personal blog that is focused on professionalism will not work in tangent with a personal Facebook profile that features lewd pictures and bawdy humor.  The brand becomes muddled and devalued, and is ineffective.

To properly develop a personal brand, there needs to be consistency across all outlets utilized.  Part of that consistency is the use of a single name.  It is very effective for Bob Smith to have a Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and blog all under the name “Bob Smith.”  It is far less effective when the Facebook belongs to Bob Smith, the LinkedIn belongs to Robert Smith, the Twitter belongs to B. Smith, and the blog belongs to Bobby Smith.  Consistency is essential, which is why Salman Rushdie recently had troubles with Facebook (*1).  Rushdie’s profile was deactivated because someone at Facebook decided that the profile was a fake, so Rushdie emailed them a copy of his passport with his full name: Ahmed Salamn Rushdie.  His profile was reactivated, but Facebook adhered to the name on the passport and set his profile name as Ahmend Rushdie.  Even though his real name is indeed Ahmed Salman Rushdie, Rushdie has gone by the name “Salman Rushdie” for the majority of his life, including the entirety of career as an author.  That is part of his brand, part of his marketing: people know him as “Salman Rushdie,” not “Ahmed Rushdie.”

Rushdie eventually got his name back, but he is a world-renowned author.  Would a regular Joe Smith get the same treatment?  I’d argue that he should.  I’ve talked before about the concept of strategic self-presentation, which refers to our “efforts to shape others’ impressions in specific ways in order to gain influence, power… or approval” (*2).  Name choice is absolutely one of those efforts.  Think of it this way: would you watch a western starring Marion Morrison, or an action movie starring Tom Mapother?  What if those movies starred John Wayne and Tom Cruise?  Celebrities will often choose a name that they feel best reflects their personality, or one that they think will help their careers and gain them influence.  They are not alone is this process; non-celebrities do the exact same thing too.  However, Rushdie wasn’t trying to gain influence by changing his name; he simply prefers Salman to Ahmed, and he has his entire life.  Again, he is not alone in this.  Expressive self-presentation is an effort that one takes to present an external identity that reflects their internal beliefs and values (*3).  Changing one’s name for personal reasons, as Rushdie did, is a fine example of this.

Regardless of the motivation, be it expressive or strategic self-presentation, the fact remains that people put cognitive effort into choosing what name they wish to go by.  In today’s digital world, names are incredibly important, since they are an essential part of the personal brand that one needs to build for themself.  It stands to reason, then, that the name you present to the world should be a name you prefer.  Facebook’s concerns over identity and safety are understandable, but people should not be forced to use their birth name if that is not their preferred professional or personal name.  Hmm… I wonder if it’s too late for me to change my name to Awesome McBatman?  It’s my right, Facebook!  Lay off!

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(*1) – “Salman Rushdie battles Facebook over his identity,” Rosa Golijan (Source)

(*2) – Social psychology, Kassin et al, 2008; p. 83.

(*3) – “Impression Management: The Self-concept, Social identity, and Interpersonal Relations,” Schlenker, 1980.

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The new iParadox tablet

Amazon and Barnes & Noble are bothing releasing tablet computers to compete with Apple’s iPad: the Kindle Fire and the Nook Tablet, respectively.  However, these two new tablets are not as powerful as the iPad.  They lack Bluetooth, GPS, front- and rear-facing cameras, and GPS connectivity (*1).  Simply said, while these tablets are less expensive than the iPad, they also lack many of the specs and abilities of the iPad, and the interesting thing is, that is exactly what Amazon and Barnes & Noble want.  While the iPad can be used to consume content, no question about that, it can also be used to create content; its advanced specs allow for it, while the two new tablets’ specs do not.  The thing is, Amazon and Barnes & Noble are not attempting to create directly competitive tablets; rather, they’re “trying to win over customers by offering a cheaply priced tablet that can match the iPad in terms of content consumption” (*1).  They’re focusing solely on content consumption, and ignoring content creation.  The question is, if you’re a consumer, which tablet do you buy?  The iPad and the Kindle Fire can both be used to consume content, but the iPad can create content too.  Sure, it’s more expensive, but it also does more.  Isn’t that a selling point?  Well…

No, it’s not, due to a phenomenon known as the “paradox of large assortments.”  People often state that they prefer large assortments; for example, shoppers state that a grocery store with a large assortment is more preferable than a grocery store with a small assortment.  However, when presented with a large assortment, people are less likely to actually make choices, and they are less confident and less satisfied with the choices they do make (*2).  The problem is choice overload, which states that people do not like having to exert the extra cognition required to choose between a large assortment of options.  Large assortments also present the problem of implications; namely, when you choose one option, you may be unsure of whether or not the options you didn’t choose were actually better, and you’ll experience cognitive distress.  More unchosen or unused options means more cognitive distress (*2).  Conversely, the smaller the assortment, the happier people actually are with their decisions.

By offering cheaper tablets with fewer features, Amazon and Barnes & Noble are reducing this choice overload.  The iPad has a very large offering of features, and can do so very much, but this may cause cognitive distress to someone who isn’t using all of those features.  After all, if a consumer doesn’t capitalize on all of the available features, they may feel that they’re wasting the product; they’ll feel that they’re not getting the most of it, even if they aren’t actually interested in the unused features.  On the contrary, the Kindle Fire and Nook Tablet only offer the small selection of features that most consumers would actually use.  As a result, the consumers will feel that that they are using the product effeciently, and to its full potential, and will have more satisfaction with the product overall.

Now, from a marketing standpoint, is this a wise business decision?  People prefer the smaller assortments in actuality, but they still report (and think) that they prefer the larger assortments.  People may like the new tablets after using them, but will the actually give the tablets a chance and buy them?  Hard to say.  Economic conditions are certainly favoring the new tablets, since people are choosing to save money when they can.  I’d argue that these new tablets will see success if they explicitly focus their marketing campaigns on the tablets’ abilites to give consumers exactly what they want, without the “extra junk.”

As for me, even knowing all of this psychology, and knowing that I wouldn’t use nearly all of its features, I’d still probably spring for the iPad.  What can I say?  It’s cool.

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(*1) – “Tablet Wars Update: If You Can’t Beat ‘Em, Outconsume ‘Em,” Ian Paul, PCWorld (Source)

(*2) – Kellog on Marketing, “Managing Product Assortments: Insights from Consumer Pscyhology,” Ryan Hamilton & Alexander Chernev, p. 349-351

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Stapel and the soft science

A recent study by Dutch social psychologist Diederik Stapel found that messy, disordered environments promote stereotyping and discrimination among participants (*1).  Stereotypes and discrimination are big topics in social psychology because they reveal much about individual cognition, groupthink, social influences, and so on.    There are many possible sources of stereotypes, but three common sources identified are: cultural perspectives, social categorization, and ingroup/outgroup distinctions (*2).  Culture as a source of stereotypes is rather straight-forward; if one lives in a culture that promotes stereotyping against certain groups, an individual in that culture will likely adopt that behavior.  Social categorization involves the grouping of people into social categories based on perceivable attributes.  This leads to the ingroup/outgroup distinction, where an individual perceives people who are similar to themselves as belonging to one group (ie, ingroup), and perceives people who are different as belonging to another group (ie, outgroup); the ingroup is usually always viewed more positively than outgroups.

Stereotyping and discrimation are major topics of concern in organizations.  In addition to existing cultural perspectives that may influence stereotypes, there may also be stereotypes unique to an organization based on its organizational structure.  For example, if an company’s workforce is divided into work-teams, an ingroup/outgroup effect may be produced.  So, needless to say, Stapel’s study is of much utility in the world of human resources.  The fact that stereotyping and discrimination may be reduced by mainting an organized, clean enivronment is incredibly useful.  Unfortunately, this study, and most of Stapel’s past research, used falsified data.

Stapel was recently exposed as having falsified data for his research for at least the past 7 years (*3).  He admitted to the wrong-doings, and apologized to his colleagues for casting a negative light on their work and on the field of social psychology.  He has indeed cast a negative light on the entire field, although, frankly, the field already has a negative reputation as it is.  One blogger said that he was not surprised to learn that Stapel had faked the data, and noted that several other social psychologists have faked research over the years due to a lack of self-policing in this “scientifically fuzzy” field of study (*4).  The blogger notes that social psychologists cracking down on their peers is a good sign, but the implication remains that this “soft” science is still leagues behind the “hard” sciences in terms of respectability.

Social psychology is a great field of study, and the insights that it produces are incredibly useful in a wide variety of settings.  Unfortuntately, researchers like Stapel perpetuate the stereotype (how fitting) of the field as an undisciplined, “fuzzy” academic arena.  If the new batch of social psychologists are going to be taken seriously, and allowed to bring their useful knowledge to the workforce, they cannot engage in dubious behavior like Stapel.  Falsifying data simply cannot and should not be tolerated, for the sake of the profession.

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(*1) – “Coping with Chaos,” Diederik Stapel & Siegwart Lindenberg (Source)

(*2) – Social psychology, Kassin et al, p. 134

(*3) – “Dutch social pscyhologist found to have faked data,” The Telegraph (Source)

(*4) – “Diederik Stapel: Another World Class Pscyhology Fraud,” Hank Campbell (Source)

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Spooky self-concepts

I love Halloween.  I love the weather, the costumes, I love carving pumpkins, eating candy, and watching scary movies.  I’ve always loved Halloween, ever since I can remember, and I would always go trick-or-treating as a kid.  When I was young, I distinctly remember that my parents did not want me to dress up as anything spooky or bad.  They only wanted me to dress up as good things, so they told me to dress up as things that I might want to be when I grow up.  So, instead of vampires and ghosts, I often went as police officers, Army guys, those kinds of costumes, and I think I’ve carried that mentality throughout my entire life.  Over the years, all of my costumes have reflected some aspiration of mine, or some personal aspect of my character.  Now, a good amount of people undoubtedly have costumes that reflect their personalities; I assume that the people who just say “Meh, whatever” and grab the first costume off the shelf are probably in the minority.  However, I’d also assume that that a good number of people pick a costume just because it’s funny or cute or cool.  In that sense, the costume does reflect their personality in a way because they’re saying “I find this funny;” however, the insights end there.  Not for me, though.  Simply said, I’ve always viewed Halloween, first unconsciously and now consciously, as a way to explore and share my self-concepts.

Self-concept is “how we think about and evaluate ourselves” (*1).  Halloween, for me at least, has always been a time to think about myself, my personality, my interests, and then choose a costume based on that.  For example, as a kid, I didn’t just think “Police officers are cool;” I thought “Police officers are good and smart and brave, and hey, I could be a police officers, because I’m all those things too.”  That’s how I viewed myself, so when my mom told me to dress up as something I wanted to be one day, I naturally chose a police officer.  As I got older, and started becoming closer with a small group of friends, I would coordinate with them on group costumes.  I view myself as someone who cares deeply about his friends, so even if I didn’t exactly like my costume, its message was “I’m doing this for my friends, because I care about them.”  I am also a pop culture junkie.  As a result of years of pop culture consumption, I not only spend my spare time writing short stories and television scripts, but I’m also seeking a job in the entertainment industry.  Clearly, “pop culture enthusiast” is a big part of my self-concept, which is why I have dressed up as several TV and movie characters over the years, some more esoteric than others (Dr. Jonas Venture Sr., anyone?).  Just like when I was a kid, these costumes were never born out of me thinking “That’s a cool-looking costume, I’ll be that.”  When I dress up as Indiana Jones, it is because I have seen “Raiders of the Lost Ark” 200 times, and consider it one of the greatest movies ever made; it is because movies like it inspired me to make similar films that could entertain people just like it entertained me; it is because I have a deep admiration for men like Theodore Roosevelt who were both intellectuals and adventurers, just like Indy; and it is because my girlfriend loves Harrison Ford, and I love her, so I’ll put on the hat.

In the world of marketing, self-concept is important because you cannot advertise to a group without knowing how they think about and evaluate themselves.  After all, your perceptions of your target segment may differ than their perceptions of themselves.  This relates back to my post about the new show “How To Be A Gentleman.”  With its two leads, the show presents a wimpy loser and a manly idiot.  However, the vast majority of men have self-concepts that differ radically from those two characters, and therefore cannot identify with either.  The same logic applies to human resources; if you’re interacting with a large number of employees, it’s beneficial to understand their self-concepts so you are better able to reach out to them and interact with them.

I love Halloween because, at least to a small extent, we get to see people’s self-concepts in colorful display.  Taking a look inward and really examining who you are, and then finding a creative way to showcase your personality, is a healthy exercise to engage in at least once a year.  And the great thing about exploring your self-perceptions this way?  You look great doing it and you get candy for your efforts.  Happy Halloween!

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(*1) – “The Self Concept in Psychology,” Saul Mcleod (Source)

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Occupier, servant, and leader

Despite being a very widely studied topic, researchers do not actually understand much about “leadership.”  Leadership has garnered much research attention over the past 100 years because it is an essential part of every day life.  From businesses to governments to sport teams, we see leaders everywhere.  However, despite the best efforts of researchers, there is no fast-and-easy method to predict who will become a leader, or to understand what personality traits or behaviors make for the most effective leaders.  There are several theories that seek to explain the many different conceivable leadership styles, one of which is the servant-leader theory.

According to the theory, the servant-leader is someone whose first desire is to serve others, and it is through serving others that their desire to lead eventually arises.  This type of leader stands in contrast to someone whose first desire is to lead, whether for the power or the privelages associated with the role (*1).  The servant-leader takes great care to ensure that “other people’s highest priority needs are being served,” and they do so by observing if those being served grow as individuals, and if they become healthier, happier, wiser, or better off in any way.  The key principle here is that the servant-leader begins as a member of a group, and he genuinely strives to improve the lives of the other members of that group.  It’s not too difficult to imagine groups wherein one or more members care deeply about the betterment of their fellow members; a family, or an athletic team, for instance.  But what about larger organizations, composed of individuals without close familial or friendly bonds?  A CEO may have started off in a lower sales position, and reached the top through many promotions, but does he earnestly care about the well-being of the employees across all levels of the company?  Looking at organizations like this, it’s more difficult to imagine a servant-leader emerging.  But what about social and political movements?  What about Occupy Wall Street?

The Occupy Wall Street protests have been happening for over a month now, and yet, no leaders have emerged from the movement (*2).  Unlike other social movements, like the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s, no person or persons have been established as take-charge leaders in this group.  The fact that the group decided early on to not elect leaders is proof enough that they don’t want leaders.  There are advantages to being leaderless; for example it has allowed people from varied backgrounds to “rally behind the same broad message” (*3).  There is sense of unity within this group, at least for the time being.  As time wears on, the broad message may become more narrow, and disinterested parties may begin to break from the movement.  It is at that point that leadership will be needed, to keep the group focused and cooperative.  I don’t believe that the group will break from its original stance and elect leaders.  Rather, I think that natural leaders will simply emerge to maintain the structure of the group, and I believe that the leaders who emerge will be servant-leaders.

As I said, there is a strong sense of unity among this group right now.  The “99%” have a common enemy that they are fighting together.  They’re fighting not just for themselves, but for all the people like them.  In that sense, I would argue that a good number of the protesters are “servants.”  Some of the protesters may just be bored middle-class workers, that’s very likely, but many of them are folks seeking to restructure the system to help others.  These protests have not helped anyone yet… no one’s lives are being improved… but the intention can be just as strong as the action sometimes.  With a good amount of servants involved in these protests, I would not be surprised in we see leaders begin to emerge from deep inside the protests within the next few weeks.  They will be the ones who truly believe in the movement, the ones truly striving for social change for the betterment of their fellow citizens.  They will be servants first, and leaders second.

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(*1) – The Servant as Leader, Robert K. Greenleaf, p. 15.

(*2) – “Occupy Wall Street gains strength, but lacks leadership,” Dante Vidal Silguero (Source)

(*3) – “Can ‘Occupy’ protests last without leaders,” Chris Hawley (Source)

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