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October 13, 2010
Can Too Big of a Buildup Make Your Product Fall Short?

It’s official: the new television season is upon us!

Personally, I am excited. Maybe it is because I have been so eagerly awaiting the new shows that seem ripe with potential, or perhaps it is due to the return of my favorites with the conclusion of their respective cliffhangers; more likely, though, it is because I have not stopped hearing about these new episodes for the last three months. All of the networks have been teasing me with the arrival of new episodes since the end of last season or since before the new fall schedules were finalized.

Teaser campaigns, marketing a product or service that does not yet exist or is not yet available for consumption, can be a very powerful tool and is not simply restricted to television shows. Teasers create mystery. They create anticipation. They create a psychological desire to resolve unknown details, whatever the product or project being discussed.

It is no longer uncommon to see previews six months or more in advance for a movie sequel that has not even made it as far as post-production. Gillette tempted us with their new ProGlide razor for more than four months without even making a suggestion to its name or design. We have been hearing about the Chevy Volt and its revolutionary hybrid technology for almost two years now, and the much-anticipated vehicle has yet to hit the showroom floor.

Teasing the public so far in advance of a practical release can have some very significant benefits, though the potential pitfalls may also prove to be extraordinarily detrimental.

From a purely cognitive perspective, repetition of a message over an extended period of time makes one more likely to recall the message itself. The level of repetition in the messaging may become akin to behaviors that generate a habit, but more likely, the message becomes an element of both our short-term and long-term memories, making it simpler to recall as one edges toward the point of actual consumption.

With the launch of a product so far in advance, the future consumer now has the ability to discuss, debate, and anticipate the future what-if’s, the hypothetical details of the potential situation, from design to performance, to quality, and to the certain perfection that we anticipate occurring as a result of this new accessibility. The tease creates, in a sense, a promise of excellence, an unmet need ultimately fulfilled -- a contract that is either suggested by the campaign itself or merely internally designed by mental suggestion.

In that sense, teaser campaigns must be incredibly careful and able to fulfill its end of the implied promise. The further out the teaser campaign is launched, the longer the consumer is kept in anticipation mode and the higher the standard will be for the inevitable payoff. Regardless of whether or not the campaign suggests such an inflated, even potentially unrealistic expectation, the consumer will now demand it -- and if the product falls short of such bloated standards, the quicker the product will be dismissed.

Over the summer, NBC spent a rather substantial amount of time, energy, and money promoting some of their most highly anticipated program successes for this upcoming season: "Outsourced" and "The Event." The efforts spent promoting these new shows for the past few months may allow for strong Nielsen ratings during premier week, but they raised the expectation level of the viewer that he or she would be witnessing the arrival of the next "Seinfeld" or "Lost," respectively. With so much publicity, though, NBC also could run the risk of message oversaturation, creating a reaction of apathy or complacency. What is "The Event"? I already do not even care.

Apple has been excellent at executing the teaser campaign and for good reason: Their target market and primary consumer demographic falls in line with those for whom the teaser campaign is most effective -- the consumer profile known as innovators. This particular category of consumer is made up of those who must be the first to have the latest and greatest items, the newest technology. These types of consumers will consume a new product or opportunity as immediately as possible upon product availability (hence the line wrapping around the block each time a new IPhone launches). These consumers are willing to pay, and sometimes pay a premium, to be the first to experience and review the new product. The bulk majority of consumers, alternatively, are patient enough to allow external reviews to have some influence over his or her expenditures.

Was it an accident that an executive “misplaced” a prototype of the latest IPhone in a bar many months before consumers could purchase it? Of course not. But much like NBC’s fall-season potential shortcomings, the IPhone would still have to live up to expectations, perhaps even higher due to the nature of their target market. With early antenna problems and other related glitches, the new IPhone fell short and these issues proved to be an early detriment to future sales.

These innovators did not only pay the price for purchasing a product that did not meet lofty expectations, but paid even more than the remaining consumers would for the same experience a month into the future.

As it relates to television, though, we all have the opportunity to be innovators, and it costs us nothing additional to do so except thirty to sixty minutes of our own free time. With the exception of reserving tickets in advance online, movies are similar. With so much hype around movies like the "Twilight" series, perhaps theatres and production studios could generate additional income from fanatics in this target market -- that is, if they are confident enough in the quality of their production.

If there is far greater price elasticity for the innovator market segment, why not take advantage of it the same way Apple does? Could theatres get away with charging an additional 20 percent to 50 percent on opening weekend for those who dare not miss the premier? The rest of us who do not feel the same sense of innovative urgency or a desire to blog our reviews on social media sites as immediately as possible are more than willing to wait beyond opening weekend and pay a regular price.

Whether one is a Twi-Hard, an Apple enthusiast, a television junkie, a sports fanatic, or just plain human, anticipation of a potential outcome can be an extraordinarily powerful influence over thought process, behavior, and reaction. It is natural for marketing execution to try and take every possible advantage of such an emotional experience, but be forewarned: The bigger the buildup, the stronger the payoff must be. The higher the expectations, the greater risk, and one must be prepared to live up to unrealistic assumptions.

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