Unpacking Contagious Why Things Catch On

Unpacking Contagious Why Things Catch On

Welcome back, dear readers! Today, we’re diving into a fascinating exploration of what makes things spread, inspired by Jonah Berger’s insightful book, “Contagious Why Things Catch On”.

The bestseller is an exciting blend of social science, marketing, and psychology, providing a roadmap for anyone wanting to design products, ideas, or initiatives that go viral. As we navigate through this digital age, understanding the underlying dynamics of virality has never been more crucial.

Berger’s book offers six core principles or “STEPPS” that shape virality: Social Currency, Triggers, Emotion, Public, Practical Value, and Stories. These principles provide a framework for understanding why people share and what makes things spread. They aren’t independent entities; rather, they often interact and overlap, amplifying the potential for contagion.

From a consumer trend that sweeps the globe, a viral TikTok dance, to a successful marketing campaign, Berger’s principles provide a lens through which we can understand these phenomena. Not only does it help us comprehend why certain trends take off while others fizzle out, but it also allows us to better harness this understanding in our own endeavors.

Our journey today will break down each of these principles, delving into their nuances and bringing them to life with real-world examples. Whether you’re a marketer, an entrepreneur, a social media influencer, or merely a curious mind, these insights are bound to spark your imagination and may be the key to your next viral success.

But before we get started, let’s remember – the essence of “Contagious” is not just about how to make things popular. It’s about how we can live in a world more connected than ever, how we influence each other, and how we make decisions.

Key Ideas from Contagious Why Things Catch On

  1. Social Currency: Simply put, we share what makes us look good. Social Currency is the information, ideas, or topics that make people feel in-the-know or special. It’s why we share exclusive news or brag about our achievements. The secret bar, “Please Don’t Tell” (PDT) in New York, leverages this principle. Hidden behind a hotdog stand, it makes visitors feel like insiders, who invariably spread the word.
  2. Triggers: Top-of-mind means tip-of-tongue. Triggers are stimuli that prompt people to think about related things. Berger uses the example of Rebecca Black’s song “Friday,” which went viral because it had an inherent weekly trigger: every time Friday rolled around, people were reminded of the song.
  3. Emotion: When we care, we share. Content that evokes strong emotions (positive or negative) is more likely to be shared. The global sharing of the video “KONY 2012” was fueled by the strong emotions of indignation and empathy it evoked, making it one of the most viral videos of all time.
  4. Public: What’s made public is more likely to be imitated. This is why Apple designed their headphones white when most were black. Seeing people with white earbuds signaled they were using an iPod, making it more likely for others to want one.
  5. Practical Value: Useful things get shared. Information with practical, utilitarian value is more likely to be passed along. BuzzFeed’s Tasty videos, which showcase quick, easy-to-make recipes, garner millions of views and shares because of their high practical value.
  6. Stories: Stories carry pieces of information or ideas. They are vessels that information can travel in. The story of Jared Fogle losing 245 pounds by eating Subway sandwiches went viral not just because it was inspiring, but because it carried a powerful promotional message for Subway.
  7. Understanding the Audience: Berger emphasizes understanding the desires, needs, and lifestyle of your audience. This principle is evident in the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge’s success. The challenge resonated with the audience’s desire to be part of a larger cause while having fun and sharing it on social media.
  8. The Power of Identity: What we share is influenced by our identity and what we want others to perceive about us. This principle was leveraged by the ‘I Voted’ stickers, which not only made voters feel proud but also subtly encouraged others to vote.
  9. Surprise and Novelty: We are more likely to share something that is surprising or novel. The Cadbury Gorilla ad went viral because it was unique and unexpected.
  10. Familiarity: Things that are familiar are more likely to be shared because they are relatable. This principle explains the success of memes, which often play on shared cultural experiences.
  11. The Power of Groups: Ideas and behaviors can spread more easily within a closely knit group. This principle has been leveraged by CrossFit, which created a close-knit community where workout routines and fitness tips are easily shared.
  12. Simplicity: The simpler an idea or a concept, the easier it is to share. The success of the Nike’s ‘Just Do It’ slogan lies in its simplicity and versatility.
  13. Influence of Authority: People are more likely to accept and share information that comes from an authority or expert. This is why influencer endorsements are so powerful.
  14. Frequency of Exposure: The more often people are exposed to something, the more likely they are to share it. This is why television commercials are repeated.
  15. The Role of Environment: The environment and context play a significant role in what becomes contagious. Twitter hashtags trend when they resonate with ongoing conversations and current events.
  16. Timing: Timing plays a crucial role in what goes viral. The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge was successful in part because it took place in summer when more people were likely to participate.
  17. The Domino Effect: One person sharing something can influence many others to do the same. This is how viral internet challenges spread.
  18. Inverse Relationship with Resources: Sometimes having fewer resources can force a more creative approach, which can result in a more contagious idea. Dollar Shave Club’s hilarious and memorable ad was born out of a lack of traditional advertising funds.

Jonah Berger’s “Contagious: Why Things Catch On” is a thought-provoking exploration into the multifaceted world of virality. It reminds us that the power to spark a trend lies not just in high-budget marketing campaigns but in a deep understanding of human behavior and the principles that motivate us to share and engage.

However, while these principles provide a blueprint for creating potentially viral content, they aren’t a guaranteed formula for success. Virality is a complex phenomenon influenced by a multitude of factors, some beyond our control. Nonetheless, having this toolkit at our disposal increases the likelihood of our ideas spreading.

The beauty of “Contagious” lies in its universal applicability. It offers valuable insights not just for marketers or business owners, but for anyone looking to make an impact, whether it’s spreading an important social message or kickstarting a grassroots initiative.

Ultimately, Berger’s book paints a vivid picture of the intricate tapestry of human interaction in the digital age. It reinforces that we are deeply interconnected beings who continually shape and are shaped by the world around us. So the next time you come across a viral trend, you’ll be able to see beyond the surface and understand the underlying currents that made it catch on. In the vast ocean of ideas, may the STEPPS guide you towards creating the next wave.

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