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Reviews, Rashomon, and That Dress


In 1950, director Akira Kurosawa’s “Rashamon” premiered, launching the then almost unknown world of Japanese cinema into the international spotlight. The film won the prestigious Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival and an Academy Award for Outstanding Foreign Language Film, thanks mostly to its unconventional plot device – one which sees various characters recounting contradictory versions of the same event. In the decades since its release, the Rashomon style of storytelling has shown up in other films, television, even video games enough that the Rashomon effect, as it’s come to be known, quickly became something of a pop culture trope.

So what does a 60 year old cinematic masterpiece have to do with online dealership reviews? More than you might think, really. The Rashomon effect doesn’t just apply to storytelling, in fact, the reason it still resonates is probably because it’s such a simple but universal concept: people with different perspectives and expectations will undoubtedly view the same event differently from time to time. This is incredibly important to remember when managing reviews.

Reviewers and dealership employees may describe an interaction differently, but that doesn’t mean that either party is being untruthful, they will very often both be fully certain that they are telling the truth. Keep  in mind, when it comes to reviews, it can be the first step in turning that negative mention into a positive.

A more recent example of the different ways we perceive the same thing is #thedress. Back in February, a photo of a dress went viral on social media. The dress appeared to be blue and black to some people, and white and gold to others. From Know Your Meme: On February 25th, 2015, Tumblr user “swiked” posted a photograph of a dress asking the science side of Tumblr to help identify its colors, noting that her friends were torn between it being white and gold or black and blue. Within 48 hours, the post gained over 400,000 notes.

This isn’t quite the same as the Rashomon effect, but it does illustrate how different people can literally see the world differently. Lengthy scientific explanations were written, but the simple version is this: when light hits the eye, some people filter the blue out and see white and gold, others filter the gold out and see black and blue. The dress was an extreme example, usually the differences in perception are much more subtle, but the important thing to remember is that it is out of anyone’s control. When the photo appeared online that night, social media immediately split into two passionate armies, each incredulous that the other side was seeing something different, each rallying around a hashtag, which is how we handle these things in 2015 (for anyone keeping track, I was on team #whiteandgold).

Taking it all back to reviews, there will absolutely be times when consumers and dealership employees see the same experience completely differently. It’s unavoidable, it’s possibly out of anyone’s control and being informed by different perspectives and experiences, and the best way to manage the resulting review is to keep that in mind. As Ryan Leslie discussed in an earlier post to this blog, “What happened to cause the review is almost beside the point. How you respond to it is your opportunity to turn it into a positive experience, for you, for your customer, and for anyone who reads that review later.”