CONTAGIOUS by Jonah Berger


Why Things Catch On
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A marketing professor at the Wharton School explains how fads are generated and why certain products, ideas and behaviors gain social currency.

Berger suggests that the secret lies in generating a buzz by turning a product into a conversation piece. Facebook and Twitter can play a role in this, but surprisingly, writes the author, “only 7 percent of word of mouth happens on-line.” Berger uses the acronym STEPPS to describe the attributes of a product or an idea that goes viral. The author has assembled a team of collaborators who analyze why some products market themselves while others, which seem equally promising, are duds. Social currency is achieved when the item is memorable. One of Berger’s examples is a cheesesteak sandwich, made with Kobe beef and lobster, that sells for $100. Triggers can be fortuitous associations. The sale of Mars bars peaked in mid-1997, he explains, when the Pathfinder landed on Mars and NASA was in the news. Emotional content that stimulates arousal heightens memory. Happy or sad associations are less likely to be shared than something funny. Public refers to the way average consumers are reassured by the popularity of an idea or item. Practical value is essential—it’s why infomercials are effective and discounts and coupons are good selling points. Lastly, the package must be embedded in a good Story. Throughout the book, Berger provides a number of entertaining, illustrative examples in the vein of Malcolm Gladwell or Freakonomics.

A provocative shift in focus from the technology of online transmission to the human element and a bold claim to explain “how word of mouth and social influence work...[and] can [be used to] make any product or idea contagious.”

Pub Date: March 5th, 2013
ISBN: 978-1-4516-8657-9
Page count: 224pp
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15th, 2012


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