Sexual and Violent Imagery in Movie Previews: Effects on Viewers' Perceptions and Anticipated Enjoyment

By Oliver, Mary Beth; Kalyanaraman, Sriram et al. | Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media, December 2007 | Go to article overview

Sexual and Violent Imagery in Movie Previews: Effects on Viewers' Perceptions and Anticipated Enjoyment


Oliver, Mary Beth, Kalyanaraman, Sriram, Mahood, Chad, Ramasubramanian, Srividya, Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media


Television programs, movies, video games, and the Internet all provide consumers with a multitude of entertaining diversions, with competition for viewers' attention arguably at an all-time high. In terms of motion picture entertainment specifically, the importance of media promotion is evidenced in terms of the sheer amount of money spent on movie marketing. In 2004, member companies of the Motion Picture Association of America spent an average of $30 million per film on advertising (MPAA Research Development, 2005). Research concerning the role of motion picture promotion on viewers' preferences also supports the notion that movie previews play an important role in entertainment-selection decisions. For example, Faber and O'Guinn (1984) found that consumers rated movie trailers as more useful, important, and influential sources of information than any other type of media or interpersonal source with regard to their movie selections.

With the importance of movie promotion resulting in what is an arguable "glut" of movie previews, what types of portrayals succeed in making movies appealing to viewers, or at least making them more appealing than other movies that are also promoted? At first glance, the answer to this question may seem obvious: Movie previews contain content that reflects what one can expect to encounter when viewing the actual motion picture. However, anecdotal evidence suggests that producers of movie previews also typically attempt to appeal to a teenage demographic, and, as such, tend to emphasize what this demographic is thought to enjoy--namely sexual and violent portrayals. As one movie marketer explained, "The objective of nearly every movie trailer is to get teenage boys' butts into seats ... And that means going for as much violence and sex as you can jam into 2 1/2 minutes" (Streisand, 1999, p. 57). Such statements are consistent with the Federal Trade Commission's (FTC) landmark report (2000) which argued that movie producers use these elements (particularly violence) to target specific audiences and to presumably enhance audience interest. They are also consonant with Oliver and Kalyanaraman's (2002) content analysis of movie previews reporting that approximately 76% of the previews in their sample featured at least one act of aggression (with an average of 2.5 aggressive acts per minute), and that 56% of the previews featured at least one sexual scene (with an average of 1.5 sexual scenes per minute).

Given the prevalence of motion picture marketing and the important role that promotion is thought to play in viewers' selection of entertainment, the purpose of this research was to examine the influence of specific portrayals in movie previews on viewers' perceptions. Namely, this research explored the effects of sexual and violent images in previews on viewers' perceptions--and anticipated enjoyment--of the film.

Explanations for the Role of Violent and Sexual Content in Anticipated Enjoyment

It would appear that industry conjecture concerning viewer enjoyment, as well as content analytic research, imply that sexuality and particularly violence may play important roles in viewers' selection and anticipated enjoyment of motion picture entertainment, though whether or not this conjecture is correct and the reasons for why it may be effective are unclear at this point. Perhaps the most straightforward explanation for the possible effectiveness of sex and violence in movie trailers is that such portrayals accurately depict what movie-goers will see and, more importantly, want to see in full-length feature films. The idea that at least some individuals find images of violence and sexuality inherently appealing or gratifying has received an abundance of research attention with a variety of explanations offered for the gratifications that viewers may obtain. Among these explanations are that sexual and violent portrayals offer viewers the opportunity for catharsis or sexual release (e. …

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