Contagious: Why Things Catch On

Contagious: Why Things Catch On
By Jonah Berger

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Product Description

The New York Times bestseller that explains why certain products and ideas become popular. “Jonah Berger knows more about what makes information ‘go viral’ than anyone in the world” (Daniel Gilbert, author of the bestseller Stumbling on Happiness).

What makes things popular? If you said advertising, think again. People don’t listen to advertisements, they listen to their peers. But why do people talk about certain products and ideas more than others? Why are some stories and rumors more infectious? And what makes online content go viral?

Wharton marketing professor Jonah Berger has spent the last decade answering these questions. He’s studied why New York Times articles make the paper’s own Most E-mailed list, why products get word of mouth, and how social influence shapes everything from the cars we buy to the clothes we wear to the names we give our children.

In Contagious, Berger reveals the secret science behind word-of-mouth and social transmission. Discover how six basic principles drive all sorts of things to become contagious, from consumer products and policy initiatives to workplace rumors and YouTube videos. Learn how a luxury steakhouse found popularity through the lowly cheesesteak, why anti-drug commercials might have actually increased drug use, and why more than 200 million consumers shared a video about one of the most seemingly boring products there is: a blender.

Contagious provides a set of specific, actionable techniques for helping information spread—for designing messages, advertisements, and content that people will share. Whether you’re a manager at a big company, a small business owner trying to boost awareness, a politician running for office, or a health official trying to get the word out, Contagious will show you how to make your product or idea catch on.

Product Details

  • Amazon Sales Rank: #2128 in Books
  • Brand: Simon Schuster
  • Published on: 2016-05-03
  • Released on: 2016-05-03
  • Original language: English
  • Number of items: 1
  • Dimensions: 8.37" h x .60" w x 5.50" l, .0 pounds
  • Binding: Paperback
  • 256 pages


  • Simon Schuster

Editorial Reviews

From Booklist
We’re all familiar with the idea of something—a video clip, for example—going viral. But how does it happen? Berger identifies six principles that operate, either singly or in combination, when anything goes viral, including social currency (a restaurant makes itself so hard to find that it becomes famous); emotion (the clip of Susan Boyle’s first appearance on Britain’s Got Talent exploded on YouTube because people reacted to it emotionally); triggers (more people search online for the song “Friday” on Friday than on any other day of the week); and practical value (a man’s video showing how to cleanly shuck a cob of corn exploded due to its useful application). Some of what the author talks about here will seem utterly obvious, but there is plenty of insider stuff as well (for example, the brain trust at Apple debated which way the logo should face on the cover of its laptops: rightside up to the user, or rightside up to someone looking at the laptop’s open lid?). On such decisions are fortunes made. An engaging and often surprising book. --David Pitt

“Jonah Berger is as creative and thoughtful as he is spunky and playful. Looking at his research, much like studying a masterpiece in a museum, provides the observer with new insights about life and also makes one aware of the creator's ingenuity and creativity. It is hard to come up with a better example of using social science to illuminate the ordinary and extraordinary in our daily lives.” (Dan Ariely, James B. Duke professor of psychology and behavioral economics at Duke University and bestselling author of Predictably Irrational)

“Why do some ideas seemingly spread overnight, while others disappear? How can some products become ubiquitous, while others never gain traction? Jonah Berger knows the answers, and, with Contagious, now we do, too." (Charles Duhigg, author of the bestselling The Power of Habit)

“If you are seeking a bigger impact, especially with a smaller budget, you need this book. Contagious will show you how to make your product spread like crazy.” (Chip Heath, co-author of Made to Stick and Decisive)

“Jonah Berger knows more about what makes information ‘go viral’ than anyone in the world.” (Daniel Gilbert, Professor of Psychology, Harvard University and author of Stumbling on Happiness)

“Jonah Berger is the rare sort who has studied the facts, parsed it from the fiction—and performed groundbreaking experiments that have changed the way the experts think. If there’s one book you’re going to read this year on how ideas spread, it’s this one.” (Dave Balter, CEO of BzzAgent and Co-founder of the Word of Mouth Marketing Association)

“Think of it as the practical companion to Malcolm Gladwell’s The Tipping Point.” (Tasha Eichenseher Discover)

“[Berger] sheds new light on phenomena that may seem familiar, showing with precision why things catch on. . . . As a playbook for marketers, Contagious is a success.” (Danielle Sacks Fast Company)

“Contagious contains arresting — and counterintuitive — facts and insights. . . . Most interesting of all are the examples Berger cites of successful and unsuccessful marketing campaigns.” (Glenn C. Altschuler The Boston Globe)

"For nonexperts who puzzle about the best way to make an impact in a world of social media addicts with short attention spans, it provides plenty to think about. . . . If there were a 'like' button underneath it, you'd probably find yourself clicking it." (Maija Palmer Los Angeles Times)

“An infectious treatise on viral marketing. . . . Berger writes in a sprightly, charming style that deftly delineates the intersection of cognitive psychology and social behavior with an eye toward helping businesspeople and others spread their messages. The result is a useful and entertaining primer that diagnoses countless baffling pop culture epidemics.” (Publishers Weekly)

“The book is just plain interesting. Berger’s cases are not only topical and relevant, but his principles seem practical and are easily understood. . . . I have a strong feeling that this book will catch on.” (Ben Frederick The Christian Science Monitor)

"An exegesis on how ideas really 'go viral' (hint: the internet gets too much credit) by a marketing wunderkind." (Details)

"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 . . . [to] make any product or idea contagious." (Kirkus Reviews)

About the Author
Jonah Berger is an associate professor of marketing at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. His research has been published in top-tier academic journals, and popular accounts of his work have appeared in The New York TimesThe Wall Street JournalScienceHarvard Business Review, and more. His research has also been featured in the New York Times Magazine’s “Year in Ideas.” Berger has been recognized with a number of awards for both scholarship and teaching. The author of Contagious and Invisible Influence, he lives in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews

9 of 9 people found the following review helpful.
4STEPPS on how to get YOUR content shared!
By Steven Woloszyk
Jonah Berger is a professor at the Wharton School of Business. He dropped two books last year, about a month apart, with this one I'm reviewing and Invisible Influence. His work reminds me a little of Malcolm Gladwell and he even references The Tipping Point early in the book.

These kind of books, where the author presents anecdotal evidence and real life stories to illustrate points, are fun to read for me as I enjoy when the author helps you relate with the "stories" presented to validate a point.

Jonah writes to inform us of why things catch on. We see this quite a bit with things going "viral" with social media, but he goes deeper than just the social media aspect of contagiousness.

He provides an easy to follow acronym for outlining what items can help something catch on. This acronym is STEPPS and the books is divided into 6 chapters describing each of the elements. They are as follows:

Social Currency - Being "in-the-know" on something and wanting to share it with others.

Triggers - How one thing will instantly trigger a thought of something else. Peanut butter makes you think of jelly. Coffee and donuts go together, etc.

Emotion - When something inspires us and evokes emotion, we are often inspired to share. Some feelings are more prone to sharing like humor, awe, excitement, and on the negative side, anger and anxiety.

Public - Summed up as social proof. Two restaurants with same cuisine and one has a line out the door and the other one is practically empty. Where would you like dine?

Practical Value - Information that is useful is far more likely to be shared.

Stories - When a good story is told, it will often suck us in, evoke emotion, and prompt us to want to share.

Amazon reviewers give this one a 4.5 after 676 reviews. Goodreads gives it a 3.87 after 11,603 ratings and 1,090 reviews. I thought the book was entertaining but didn't really feel like there was anything revolutionary about the content. Still, if you enjoy psychology and social behaviors along the same lines as Malcolm Gladwell, then you might want to pick it up.

158 of 168 people found the following review helpful.
5Fascinating read for marketers trying to unlock the secrets to viral success
By Jim Williams, Influitive
Jonah Berger's Contagious is a fascinating read. Not only is the book packed with entertaining examples of viral campaigns, but each is backed with painstaking analysis into the science of social transmission. What you end up with is a veritable blueprint for creating ideas, campaigns and messages that spread like wildfire.
There are six essential factors that contribute to contagious ideas, shows Jonah, and a quick look at some of the most successful viral campaigns reveals each of them at work:

Social currency. We share things that make us look good or help us compare favorably to others. Exclusive restaurants utilize social currency all the time to create demand.

Triggers. Ideas that are top of mind spread. Like parasites, viral ideas attach themselves to top of mind stories, occurrences or environments. For example, Mars bar sales spiked when in 1997 when NASA's Pathfinder mission explored the red planet.

Emotion. When we care, we share. Jonah analyzed over six months of data from the New York Times most emailed list to discover that certain high arousal emotions can dramatically increase our need to share ideas - like the outrage triggered by Dave Carroll's "United Breaks Guitars" video.

Public. People tend to follow others, but only when they can see what those others are doing. There is a reason why baristas put money in their own tip jar at the beginning of a shift. Ideas need to be public to be copied.

Practical. Humans crave the opportunity to give advice and offer tips (one reason why advocate marketing works - your best customers love to help out), but especially if they offer practical value. It's why we `pay it forward' and help others. Sharing is caring.

Stories - People do not just share information, they tell stories. And stories are like Trojan horses, vessels that carry ideas, brands, and information. To benefit the brand, stories must not only be shared but also relate to a sponsoring company's products. Thus the epic failure of viral sensations like Evian's roller baby video (50M views) that did little to stem Evian's 25% drop in sales.

There is so much this book offers marketers, making it required reading that follows in the footsteps of Malcolm Gladwell and the Heath brothers. It also perfectly demonstrates why advocate marketing is such a powerful idea for modern marketers. Viral campaigns eschew overt marketing messages by cleverly tapping into consumer wants, desires and emotional needs. Similarly, advocate marketing helps marketers reach audiences through a more effective and trusted means than direct messaging. We share our experiences because that act enhances our personal and professional reputation and makes us feel good. When marketers tap into these very human needs, they can reach a much broader audience with a more genuine message than any advertisement can provide.

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful.
5Do you ever wonder why some advertisements are so annoying and corny
By ryan sansing
Do you ever wonder why some advertisements are so annoying and corny? Many of us imagine that ad writers lack our higher level of taste. How is it that some important news stories are ignored, while a video of a grandmother dancing drunk on the table gets millions of views? In his award-winning, New York Times best seller Contagious Why Things Catch On, author Jonah Berger gives countless real-life examples of the mysterious methods employed to capture the logic defying attention of the masses. The chapter on social currency describes how you can yoke your product to your customers desire to improve their image making word-of-mouth, and web, your best form of marketing. Next he explains how subconscious triggers lead to surprising results. One example is the horrible book review that leads to thousands more copies sold. Directly manipulating the emotions is another strategy. What sells more, happy emotions or sad? The answer is according to Contagious is both, as long as it is emotional arousal, anxiety, anger, or bright joy. The chapter on the public is all about how to make people show your logo everywhere. Good old-fashioned practical value is also described as we love to share those genuine life hacks with our friends and family. If we believe we can help others save time or money, we will spread the word. Finally we learn the power of narrative. If we can tie a product or service to a good story, then we ride the waves of idle chatter. The author peppers his lessons with juicy examples that are surprising and interesting. Overall the book will change the way you see viral marketing and communication in our modern age and is genuinely fun to read.

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