What Makes Some Things Fade Fast, and Others Stand the Test of Time?

After writing this blog for just over three years now, I find it quite interesting to see what types of posts are immediately successful and which articles continue to be successful over a long period of time.

The most popular blog post that I have written since 2015 is titled ‘How Have Intimate Relationships Changed Over the Years, and Where Does It Leave Us Now?’. It was first published in May 2016 and did okay initially but continued to build over time, and its most successful month for post views was April 2018, nearly two years after it was first released!

Most posts tend to track like the typical movies being released at the cinema, a book at the book store, or a song at the record store (back when they still existed). Their biggest week of views (or sales) tends to occur right near the start, and a lousy opening release indicates that the overall views (or sales) aren’t likely to be that great either. Very rarely, this isn’t the case.

Movies

At boxofficemojo.com, they even talk about and predict opening multipliers for films or how much a movie will gross compared to its opening weekend takings. One of the most significant drops was the remake of ‘Friday the 13th’ in 2009. It grossed over $40 million in the first week, less than $8 million in the second week, and only $65 million all up on the US Box office. This was a multiplier of only 1.625, indicating that it had no staying power. Essentially, anyone who wanted to see it saw it as soon as it came out, and that was it.

At the opposite end of the spectrum, you have ‘La La Land’, which started with just over $9 million in ticket sales in the US in the first week, but over $12.5 million the second week and more than $151 million at the US box office all up. Good reviews and Oscar buzz must have played a bit of a role, as its overall take was nearly 17 times that of its opening weekend. In 2005, ‘Sideways’ produced a multiplier of nearly 30 times its opening weekend, and ‘Titanic’ and ‘E.T.’ remained at #1 at the US Box office for 15 and 16 weeks, respectively.

Avatar is the highest-grossing movie of all time worldwide. It stayed in release for 238 days and grossed nearly 2.8 billion dollars, or $600million more than Titanic, the second-place movie of all time worldwide, also directed by James Cameron. Apparently, he knows how to make films that impact people.

Songs

In the U.K., Wet Wet Wet pulled their song ‘Love is All Around’ after 15 weeks at number 1 on the charts, and Gnarls Barkly did the same with their song ‘Crazy’ after 9 weeks at #1. While most bands would love nothing more than for their song to reach the top of the charts, sometimes other artists want to pull their song before everyone gets sick of it, worrying that they will become forever known as one-hit wonders otherwise (can anyone remember or name another Wet Wet Wet or Gnarls Barkly song?).

Other songs may not have even been that big at the time but continue to be hits months and years after first being released. For example, ‘Mr Brightside’ by the Killers, ‘Chasing Cars’ by Snow Patrol and ‘My Way’ by Frank Sinatra never even reached number 1 on the UK charts but remained in the top 100 singles chart for 203, 166 and 133 weeks in total respectively.

Books

With books, ‘The Alchemist’ by Paulo Coelho stands out like no other. Initially, sales were so slow when it was first published in Portuguese in 1988 that the publisher gave back the book’s rights to the author after a year. Since then, it has gone on to win over 100 international awards, been translated into 80 languages, and sold over 65 million. And most people already know that Harry Potter was rejected 12 times before it was finally accepted and sold 120 million.

So how do some movies, books and songs defy the odds and have seemingly miraculous staying power? I’m not sure if the exact reason is fully known, but it does seem to be that they all make an emotional impact on the audience and come out at the right place and the right time to have the effect that they do. One year earlier or later, and the same magic just may not be recreated. It’s why remakes often fail.

What if you could recreate that, though? Are there certain elements that all big successes have? That helps things go viral? That leads to the box office or New York Times bestselling gold?

Let’s find out what makes ideas genuinely stick, why relationships always seem to interest people and the most important thing you need to know if you want your relationship to endure and stand the test of time…

What Makes Ideas Hang Around?

Top 100 most-viewed YouTube videos[14][15]
# Video name Uploader / artist Views (billions) Upload date
1. Despacito[16] Luis Fonsi featuring  Daddy Yankee 5.53 January 12, 2017
2. Shape of You[21] Ed Sheeran 3.81 January 30, 2017
3. See You Again[22] Wiz Khalifa featuring  Charlie Puth 3.78 April 6, 2015
4. Masha and the Bear: Recipe for Disaster[29] Get Movies 3.28 January 31, 2012
5. Uptown Funk[30] Mark Ronson featuring  Bruno Mars 3.24 November 19, 2014
6. Gangnam Style[31] Psy 3.21 July 15, 2012
7. Sorry[36] Justin Bieber 3.01 October 22, 2015
8. Sugar[37] Maroon 5 2.75 January 14, 2015
9. Shake It Off[38] Taylor Swift 2.65 August 18, 2014
10. Roar[39] Katy Perry 2.63 September 5, 2013

Looking at the above list of top ten videos on YouTube, are there any similarities that seem evident to you?

Yes, 9 out of the 10 are music videos, and all have been released since 2012. This indicates that YouTube is getting more and more popular as a platform to watch videos, and music videos have something about them that makes people want to watch them again and again. But what is it?

In their book ‘Made to Stick’, Chip and Dan Heath show that any successful idea has two essential qualities:

  1. It is memorable, and
  2. People are eager to pass it onwards

They also say that successful ideas all tend to have the following six elements: the acronym SUCCES for. They are:

S — Simple: They manage to uncover the core of the idea and don’t complicate it too much beyond that. Like a boy survives evil, but his parents don’t; gets rescued from an awful family; goes to wizard school, and is the one chosen to save the day.

U — Unexpected: They surprise people and grab their attention by doing something unexpected. ‘Gangnam Style’ definitely did this.

C — Concrete: They make sure an idea can be grasped and remembered later. Like this plot: Poor boy meets rich girl on a big boat; they fall in love; the ship hits iceberg and sinks; the rich girl doesn’t share the door; the poor boy dies.

C — Credible: They make an idea believable or give it credibility. Expert or celebrity testimonials in ads might be the best example of this.

E — Emotional: They help people to see the importance of an idea. Watch ‘Sugar’ by Maroon 5, and you’ll see that it has a clear emotional tone (surprise, joy), and the message is obvious (Having a famous band randomly turn up to play at your wedding would make a pretty cool story to tell the grandkids one day).

S — Story: They empower people to use an idea through the power of a story. Would you please think of how successful Marvel has been with their movies through the power of storytelling and how DC hasn’t quite managed the same? ‘Batman vs Superman’ sucked.

Yes, I am aware that they didn’t include a final S in their acronym, but maybe that is Heath’s way of being unexpected. Nevertheless, I still find it annoying.

Why Does the Topic of Relationships Always Seem to Interest People?

As I said earlier, my most successful post looked at how dating has changed over the years, especially since the invention of online dating. The article does try to tell a story, is surprising for people to see how times have changed, and is broken down into small, simple, easy to digest parts. It is also credible because it’s based on a book by a celebrity and a Sociology researcher and has some concrete do’s and don’ts for texting in the courting phase of dating. This essentially means that the post was sticky, even though I didn’t realise it at the time.

Having said that, people do seem to love learning or reading about relationships, and this may have played a bigger role than anything I wrote about or didn’t do in my other posts. For example, would ‘Titanic’ or ‘Avatar’ be as massively successful as they were if it weren’t for the central role that the relationships played in the movies. I highly doubt it.

Looking at any celebrity gossip magazines, many of them centre around who may or may not be getting together or breaking up or cheating on one another. Even I have read far and wide on relationships, with ‘Mating in Captivity’ by Ester Perel and ‘Essays in Love’ and ‘The Course of Love’ by Alain de Botton being the three best books about relationships that I had read already in 2018.

I’ve also mentioned plenty of times just how important a good relationship is for overall well-being, including on my posts about positive psychology, the need to belong, and the dangers of isolation and loneliness. There are others too.

What Makes Relationships Last?

Now that you know how to create something that can stand the test of time, let’s look at making relationships last. According to the most productive and scientific relationship researcher John Gottman, the most important predictor is something known as conflict style. He can predict with over 90% accuracy whether or not a couple will make it in the long-term after watching them discuss a contentious issue together for only 5 minutes. This is about how long it takes to get a good sense of someone’s preferred conflict style.

Conflict styles are something that exists on a spectrum, but there are three main points along the continuum:

  1. At one end, we have an avoidant conflict style. These individuals will try to avoid conflict at all costs and would rather focus on the good things in their relationship and sweep the bad stuff under the rug. Their motto might be, “if it ain’t broke, don’t try to fix it!” even if a vase has just broken in the living room.
  2. At the other end, we have a volatile conflict style. These individuals don’t care what they say or how they say it, as long as everything on their minds is out in the open and the other person has heard it. Their motto may be “better out than in!” no matter who’s feelings get hurt.
  3. In the middle, we have a validating conflict style. These individuals won’t bring up every little issue they have in a relationship, but they will discuss the important stuff in a calm, rational manner until a nice compromise has been reached that works well for both parties. Their motto may be: “be honest AND respectful, and we can get through anything!”

Now most psychologists will say that the validating conflict style is ideal. Still, Gottman’s research actually suggests that all three approaches can lead to long and happy relationships — the key is whether or not your conflict style matches up with your partner or not.

If your ideal style is avoidant and your partner is volatile, then the four horsemen of the apocalypse will appear in the relationship sooner rather than later, and break-up town will be the destination. Same with avoidant-validating and validating-volatile relationships. Unless you can find common ground with how you want to deal with the inevitable disagreements that will occur, the connection cannot last. Not happily anyway.

If you found any of this information memorable or useful, please feel free to share it or pass it onto others. This post probably won’t be the next ‘Mr Brightside’, and that’s okay by me. I’m happy to compromise…

Dr Damon Ashworth

Clinical Psychologist

Published by Dr Damon Ashworth

I am a Clinical Psychologist. I completed a Doctoral degree in Clinical Psychology at Monash University and a Bachelor of Behavioural Sciences and a Bachelor of Psychological Sciences with Honours at La Trobe University. I am passionate about the field of Psychology, and apply the latest empirical findings to best help individuals meet their psychological and emotional needs.

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