Marvel Tops DC at the Box Office Because Fans Emotionally Connect With Its Characters, Study Shows

Humor also plays a role

Guardians of the Galaxy 2 is the perfect mix of humor, action and emotion. Marvel
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Comic book franchises are making their way to screens big and small now more than ever before, with Disney’s Marvel leading the way.

According to a study done by automated market research tech provider ZappiStore, the success of Marvel at the box office and beyond can be linked to the viewer’s emotional engagement with the superheroes during a Marvel movie trailer.

ZappiStore was able to test a viewer’s emotional engagement with a series of Marvel and DC movie trailers by using a facial coding and emotion recognition platform called Affectiva.

The respondents participating in the Marvel/DC study, and others like it, only need internet connectivity and a standard web camera. As viewers watch stimulus, Affectiva can measure their moment-by-moment facial expressions of emotions. The results for this study were aggregated and displayed in a dashboard.

Because data protection regulations prevent us from showing you photos of the Marvel/DC test results, here’s a look at how a participant is responding to an episode of CBS’s Friends with Better Lives, and how her response is being measured:

ZappiStore tested a number of DC and Marvel movie trailers to measure viewer emotional engagement and find out which elements impacted performance of the trailers, including how much the respondents “loved” the trailer, how well the trailer grabbed their attention, and how likely respondents were to share the trailer on social media.

ZappiStore says the data shows the DC trailers received a positive response from their special effects and explosive action, rather than from their characters. However, fans show a strong affinity toward Marvel’s superheroes and react positively toward its trailers’ humor, driving the higher levels of emotional engagement with its trailers.

A strong example is Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy 2 trailer. It resonated the strongest with respondents, with the study finding 78 percent of viewers as “lovers” of the trailer. It’s set to a popular song (in this case the 1977 Fleetwood Mac classic The Chain), and features entertaining characters making wisecracks. There’s something here that attracts comic and non-comic book fans alike. And there’s still plenty of action.

Following Guardians of the Galaxy 2 in the “lovers” category, was Marvel’s Avengers: Civil War, with 75 percent of respondents “loving” the trailer.

Both Marvel trailers were ahead of DC in this “lovers” index, with DC’s The Justice League coming in at 71 percent and Batman vs. Superman trailing at 60 percent.

Marvel trailers also index higher on the “brand linkage” score (how well they fit with a respondent’s image of the comics), indicating that inconsistent DC character connections could be having a negative effect on the audience’s emotional engagement with its trailers.

The Marvel trailers also led DC in regards to how well the trailer grabs attention and the degree to which respondents would share the advertisements with others.

The data ZappiStore received from the test not only indicates why Marvel consistently beats DC at the box office, but also offers an insight into brand consistency and messaging in entertainment advertising. ZappiStore’s study shows that although set pieces, explosions and special effects in DC movie trailers do cause an uplift on the trailer success metrics, it’s Marvel’s consistency with brand affinity and character connection that drives a far higher level of emotional engagement and beats DC across all metrics.

This finding was a bit unexpected.

“We were surprised to see, across all trailers tested, that the emotional response was lower than expected for set pieces and special effects, particularly in the genre we were looking at,” ZappiStore research architect Ernie Collings said. “The results indicate the way DC can reboot and change characters across trilogies or between TV to film might be having a detrimental effect on how well the public connects with those characters.”

The decades old battle of Marvel and DC will certainly continue in movie theaters for the foreseeable future, but right now, Marvel is soaring above its competitor in terms of an emotional connection to its brand.

@ajkatztv A.J. Katz is the senior editor of Adweek's TVNewser.