The Why #51: Why do we re-watch old movies?

3 min readSep 29, 2022

By Dan Monheit 30.9.22

Ah yes, I can picture it now. There you are, Oodied up, microwave popcorn at the ready, lights dimmed, family movie night about to start. After spending almost the entire time you had allocated to watching a movie trawling through streaming apps trying to find something to watch, you’ve whittled it down to two. Well done for getting this far! Now it’s just a matter of deciding between Love Actually and that edgy new Indie film that won some big award at Sundance.

Before you can even search Rotten Tomatoes for a review, *ding ding ding* the fam have made the call. Sure, you’ve all seen it seven, maybe eight times before, but Colin Firth and Emma Thompson step up to take the gold… again.

It wasn’t exactly a ‘Sophie’s Choice’ was it? Sure, Love Actually is kind of OK, if that’s what you’re into, but shouldn’t we actually love seeing something new and different (see what I did there? Twice!)?

The Mere Exposure Effect

The Mere Exposure Effect refers to our tendency to prefer things, merely because they are familiar to us.

Research conducted by Robert Zajonc in the 1960’s demonstrated that The Mere Exposure Effect is so strong, that it even presents in newborn chicks. Zajonc played tones of two different frequencies to two different groups of fertilised, unhatched eggs. Once hatched, the tones were again played to both groups of chicks. Remarkably, each set of chicks consistently favoured the tone that they had been previously exposed to — even though the previous exposure occurred when they were still eggs!

The types of ‘things’ that we can build preference for seems to know no bounds. Other experiments have demonstrated that repeated exposure is enough for us to prefer specific words, characters, paintings, pictures, faces, geometric figures, and sounds.

Stimuli that we’ve been repeatedly exposed to are easier for our brains to understand, as well as more likely to be categorised as ‘safe’. Both of these attributes are big ticks when it comes to favourability.

So back to tonight’s big decision. When it comes time to choose between a new film with fresh faces, and an ol’ faithful jammed with A listers, it’s not even a fair fight. Nostalgia, familiarity and comfort win almost every time.

Every brand can benefit from The Mere Exposure Effect, simply by turning up early, often and with brand codes front and centre. For challenger brands especially, it pays to prioritise frequency (even if this means talking to a smaller audience). One hundred people seeing your brand one hundred times is likely to create far more preference than 10,000 people seeing it once.

Behaviourally Yours,

Dan Monheit

PS If you missed the last edition, you can still check why bands always leave their best song ’til last here.

Bad Decisions Podcast
Learn more about The Mere Exposure Effect on episode 24 of the Bad Decisions podcast.

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Check out Mumbrella’s write up on Dan’s opening keynote at the 2022 Mumbrella Automotive Marketing Summit about why creating an ‘outstanding’ customer experience is a ‘waste of time’ .




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