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.


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

(*2) – “Cognitive closure” (Source)


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