Spider-Man renewed and the novelty effect

So if the first Spider-Man film with Tobey Maguire came out only nine years ago, why in the world is Sony redoing the same Spidey 1 plot — this time, with buffer actor Andrew Garfield — set for release in summer 2012? Is our culture completely out of ideas?

Sony is actually making a clever move, rebooting what was a profitable franchise to include more grit, sex, and videogame offshoots that appeal to older demos. The challenge is how to manage the novelty effect, or the tendency of humans to respond more strongly to something that is new.

In psychology, the novelty effect is the heightened response humans have — in terms of stress, anticipation, or pleasure — from something new. Through our Darwinian ancestry we survived based on novelty; men who sought more mates were most likely to pass their genes on; women who invented communication charms were more likely to get those unfaithful men to stick around and help protect the children; clans who ate diverse foods and built new tools were most likely to be healthy and survive storms and wars. Sexual nuance, language, art, cooking, housing, and automotive sheet metal designs all grew out of our need for new things to survive.

The novelty effect is why Google+ seems so amazing, when it is really a slight rehash of Facebook, Twitter and Skype. It’s why your iPhone 4 looked so incredible last year, and why you’ll want to toss it aside when Apple launches a next-gen phone with a bigger touchscreen and no clunky home button. Novelty is why we sit through stupid films such as Transformers or Captain America with little new plot, because there are new explosions to see.

To test this idea, we asked a teenager to review the new Spider-Man trailer above. He said, “yes, the plot is the same — but check it out! Now, when Spider-Man flies, we’ll watch it from the first-person viewpoint, all in 3-D!”

Ben Kunz is vice president of strategic planning at Mediassociates, an advertising media planning and buying agency, and co-founder of its digital trading desk eEffective.


One thought on “Spider-Man renewed and the novelty effect

  1. Hmm not sure about this yet. The novelty effect/shiny object syndrome may work for some people, but successful films tend to work because they reach out to include those resistant to change. In the same way, people go to the Rocky Horror show once a year to see the same thing, it is comfortably reassuring to know you are going to enjoy the same old comic book superhero/wizard/transforming car (new explosions notwithstanding) whereas the inceptions et al have the uncertainty of unfamiliarity.

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