Contagious: Why Do Things Catch On?

By Marta Majewska (@princess_misia)

How can we make our campaign, product, idea more infectious? Why does one video go viral while the other gets less than 500 views? It is a never ending question, one that every marketer, agency and brand has asked themselves more than once. As there is no clear answer, we like to think that it’s luck. But according to Jonah Berger, a professor of marketing at Wharton Business School and author of the book Contagious: Why Things Catch On, it’s not luck. It’s science.

At his SXSW session, Berger might not have entirely solved the mystery but he has definitely shared some really good insights based on the 10-year research he conducted on why a product, a video, or an idea becomes more infectious.


It is common thinking that to generate word-of-mouth you need a handful individuals which are exceptionally ‘connected’.  Even though influencers might help you with creating awareness around your product or campaign, they are usually not very effective in making things go viral. Contagious content spreads regardless of who is doing the talking, therefore think of not focusing too much on the messenger but rather on the message.


Ever wondered why Rebecca Black went (and still is) so annoyingly viral? Because every Friday, people still search YouTube for her video. Friday, in this case, is what Berger calls a mental trigger, stimuli that reminds people of products and ideas, prompt people to think about related things. Designing products and campaigns that are frequently triggered by the environment is key.


Have you ever saw something you really liked but decided not to share it after all? Do you remember why you didn’t do it? Most probably because you thought it would reflect badly on you or make you seem dull, dumb, boring? Word-of-mouth has become a tool for us, to make a good impression, just like the car we drive and the clothes we choose to wear. Sharing has become a social currency so next time you are developing a campaign, think about how you can give people a way to make themselves look entertaining, clever and hip while promoting your products along the way.

If still in doubt, get a mean Panda to help you create word-of-mouth for your brand. It sure is contagious.



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