NEW YORK: Movie trailers which successfully generate word of mouth (WOM) can play a central role in helping films become a box office success, according to new research published in the Journal of Advertising Research (JAR).

This subject was investigated by a global team of authors, including Chris Archer-Brown and Julia Kampani from the University of Bath School of Management, Ben Marder from the University of Edinburgh Business School, Anjali S. Bal from Babson College/Wellesley, and Jan Kietzmann from Simon Fraser University in Vancouver.

More specifically, they explored "the extent to which trailers influence WOM in the pre-release context by testing a conceptual model separately on the three most popular movie genres" – taking the form of science fiction, thrillers and comedies.

"Filmmakers increasingly depend on trailers as advertising and to generate word of mouth (WOM)," the team of academics wrote in their paper, Conditions in Pre-release Movie Trailers for Stimulating Positive Word of Mouth – A Conceptual Model Demonstrates the Importance of Understanding as a Factor for Engagement.

"When viewers perceive greater understanding of the movie from the trailer, the prospect of liking it is significantly increased.

"This leads to a substantial increase in viewers' intent to generate WOM and, ultimately, their willingness to pay to see the movie."

In other words: it's not enough for viewers just to like a movie trailer. If this content is going to yield a significant box office impact, the study found, they need to talk about it as well.

"For filmmakers, merely making a great film does not guarantee audience members. Although trailer understanding is a must, understanding alone likewise is insufficient to entice audiences to watch a film," the authors wrote.

"When 'liking' and 'understanding' exist in unison, however, the likelihood of WOM intention is increased, which has a strong, positive relationship with purchase intent."

Such knowledge, in turn, has very practical implications: "The model suggests that, by varying a key element of trailers depending on the stage of the movie life cycle, filmmakers potentially can stimulate dialogue about the movie among potential audiences on social media," the study said.

"By doing so, studios can encourage discussion and opinion sharing, which data can assist with future planning of the pre-release campaign, such as determining the most appropriate release date or developing an ongoing narrative in the community that forms around the movie on social media."

Data sourced from Journal of Advertising Research; additional content by WARC staff