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“Age of Ultron” and the Risk of Expectations


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Written by: Doug Thoreson

Expectations can be funny things: with high expectations, anything less than great can end up as a disappointment; with low expectations, something mediocre can be a pleasant surprise. It goes along with the old adage: always under-promise and over-deliver.  The way something is perceived – such as a recently released movie – is frequently tied to the expectations that precede it.

A few weeks ago, when “Avengers: Age of Ultron” was released in the United States, it became the 2nd – largest grossing movie in its opening weekend in U.S. box office history, with a staggering $191 million in only three days of showings. Normally, this would be a coup for any film. In one weekend, Age of Ultron was already on pace to be one of the highest-grossing films of all time.

Yet, this is where expectations begin to factor in.

The first Avengers movie, released in 2012, is the one movie that “Age of Ultron” failed to surpass in its first weekend. This took some of the shine off of “Ultron’s” impressive financial success. Many predictions leading up to opening weekend had “Ultron” passing its predecessor for no. 1 on the all-time list, and there was a solid basis for this: all sequel films in the Marvel cinematic universe had outgained their predecessors on opening weekend. When “Ultron” failed to live up to this history, the narrative  shifted, and the story became less about the success of the sequel or the sustained success of the “Avengers” franchise and more about how much farther behind projections “Age of Ultron” could expect to fall.

As the “Ultron” example shows, figuring out the right way to set consumer expectations is tricky – companies will always want to market new products as superior to all things that preceded them. Being too low key will not be successful, because with no buzz there will be no sales. But consumers will be disappointed if an overly hyped product does not live up to what was promised.

Some companies pride themselves on having their expectations line up with the consumer experiences:

  • Last year, Stubhub announced “all-in pricing” so that customers could see the final price of their tickets, as opposed to paying tax and convenience fees at checkout
  • Zappos proudly offers a 100% return policy and receives top customer service ratings.

Through over-delivering on achievable expectations, companies are able to create sustainable levels of customer experiences that will lead to loyalty and advocacy.

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