The expectation paradox

May 28, 2008          Comments (3)

I find it amazing that tickets for Sex and the City have been sold out for weeks already. Groups of girls all across America are planning on seeing it and reliving their Sunday night tradition just one more time.

Here’s the problem though:

Everyone is expecting the world from this movie. Anything less than perfect is going to be a disappointment. But here’s where the paradox comes in. If you don’t promise the world then not as many people will see it.

Hype is a huge marketing ploy. “This is going to be the greatest fight of all time,” or, “The greatest NBA finals of all time,” or, “The funniest movie ever!” Companies and marketers are constantly faced with this challenge – How do I get more people to do what I want them to do. In this case, see a movie.

But the very dangerous problem occurs when you can’t deliver on what you promised. If you promise X, Y, and Z and only deliver X and Y, you’re breaking a promise and are going to disappoint people and make them angry. As they say, satisfied customers tell three friends, angry customers tell 3000.

The expectation paradox is at work all the time:

In the years that Joe Torre led the team, from 1996 to 2007, the Yankees went to the post-season each year and won ten American League East Division titles, six American League pennants, and four World Series titles, in addition to compiling a .605 winning percentage with them. But everyone expected the World Series title so it wasn’t good enough.

When Eliot Spitzer was caught in his scandal it was a media frenzy. Here was a guy who held such high standards for everyone else and insisted that people take responsibility for their conduct, as they should. But that’s exactly the reason why he had to resign. That’s what he built his career on. And that’s exactly why Bill Clinton didn’t. He never made promises like that.

It’s even at work when your boyfriend or husband buys you flowers. If he brings you flowers every Friday and one Friday forgets, you might actually be disappointed. Yet, on the other hand, if he never brings you flowers and out of the blue brings you flowers it’s going to be a lot more special…because you didn’t expect it.

The same thing happened with the Sopranos. People were upset because of the non-ending of the Sopranos. People are always upset when a TV show ends with a big finale, because it never meets the hype, never meets the expectations.

Cut to black. (Once again.)

If you enjoyed this post, make sure you subscribe to the RSS Feed!


  1. Adam,

    Good post and great points. It’s very difficult to deliver when expectations are too high.

    I wanted to comment on the TV show endings, because you hardly ever watch a finale that you are like wow, they couldn’t have done that any better, even if they recorded it 100 different ways. I can only say that on one series I’ve ever watched and that was Six Feet Under, an HBO series.

    Anyways, I finally setup my feedreader today and added your site to the list, expect some more comments out of me in the future. Keep up the great work.


    Comment by George — June 10, 2008 @ 6:30 pm

  2. I guess I should have explained what Six Feed Under did, which made it so unique and intriguing to me. I’m always wondering, what happened to this character or that one, etc. at the end of a show / movie. They fast forwarded through the next ~70 years through the eyes of the youngest character and you got a glimpse of the life of each character and knew how they died (this is relevant to the show since it was based around a funeral home business). At the end you were just in shock since I’ve never seen that done before, on that level of detail, with over 10 characters.

    Sorry for the double comment 🙂

    Comment by George — June 10, 2008 @ 6:53 pm

  3. George – Welcome!

    Please don’t ever apologize for a double comment. You make me want to watch reruns of Six Feet Under.

    I’m into every other HBO show too…


    Comment by Adam Gilbert — June 10, 2008 @ 8:21 pm

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URL

Leave a comment