What makes telenovelas so popular?

What makes telenovelas so popular?

By Dr Tom van Laer

A particular type of consumer enjoys stories with plots, characters, and imagery that allow them to get lost in the narrative, according to our new study in the Journal of Consumer Research.

Stories have the power to change people’s behaviour. Contemporary examples include the persuasive power of Latin American telenovelas, which influence family planning choices and enrollment in adult literacy programs, as well as Internet users sharing written stories, photos, and videos about themselves and their market experiences.

Ko de Ruyter (Maastricht University), Luca M. Visconti (ESCP Business School), Martin Wetzels (Maastricht University), and I wanted to understand what kinds of stories allowed consumers to mentally enter a story, a phenomenon called “narrative transportation.” We also wondered which kinds of consumers were more likely to identify with the narratives. We reviewed articles written in five different languages that dealt with the theme of narrative transportation and tested consumer reactions to those stories.

We found that consumers were most likely to engage with realistic stories with identifiable characters and plots that easily lead to mental imagery. We also identified five characteristics that made participants more able to be transported: familiarity, attention, ability to fantasize, higher education, and female gender.

Consumers who are ‘transported’ are changed by their experience. People who lose themselves in a story accept the story is true and relate to the characters. As the Hopi proverb goes, ‘The one who tells the story rules the world,’ and now we know how.

Tom van Laer, Ko de Ruyter, Luca M. Visconti, and Martin Wetzels.”The Extended Transportation-Imagery Model: A Meta-Analysis of the Antecedents and Consequences of Consumers’ Narrative Transportation.” Journal of Consumer Research: February 2014. For the full paper, contact Tom van Laer or visit http://www.jstor.org/stable/info/10.1086/673383.

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