Book Reviews

Contagious by Jonah Berger -Book Notes, Summary, and Review

Contagious. Why Things Catch On - Jonah Berger

Get it on Amazon

Rating: 8/10

Date of reading: 22nd – 26th of February, 2017

Description: There are six elements of virality: social value, triggers, emotions, public, practical values, and stories.


My notes:


Introduction: Why Things Catch On


“Now, unless I’m mistaken, there’s no reason for me to read the second copy, once I’ve read the first. But these publishers had a different goal in mind. They sent a note explaining why they thought the book would be good for my students, but they also mentioned that they sent a second copy so that I could pass it along to a colleague who might be interested. That’s how word of mouth helps with targeting.” ( :11)

“In the first week the videos racked up 6 million views. Tom and George had hit a viral home run. Tom went on to blend everything from Bic lighters to Nintendo Wii controllers. He’s tried glow sticks, Justin Bieber CDs, and even an iPhone. Not only did Blendtec blenders demolish all these objects, but their video series, titled Will It Blend?, received more than 300 million views. Within two years the campaign increased retail blender sales 700 percent. All from videos made for less than a few hundred dollars apiece. And for a product that seemed anything but word-of-mouth worthy. A regular, boring old blender.” ( :15)

“Principle 1: Social Currency” ( :18)

“Principle 2: Triggers” ( :18)

“Principle 3: Emotion” ( :18)

“Principle 4: Public” ( :18)

“Principle 5: Practical Value” ( :18)

“Principle 6: Stories” ( :19)

“These are the six principles of contagiousness: products or ideas that contain Social Currency and are Triggered, Emotional, Public, Practically Valuable, and wrapped into Stories.” ( :19)


1. Social Currency


“Everything about Please Don’t Tell suggests that you’ve been let into a very special secret. You won’t find a sign posted on the street. You won’t find it advertised on billboards or in magazines. And the only entrance is through a semihidden phone booth inside a hot dog diner. Of course, this makes no sense. Don’t marketers preach that blatant advertising and easy access are the cornerstones of a successful business? Please Don’t Tell has never advertised. Yet since opening in 2007 it has been one of the most sought-after drink reservations in New York City. It takes bookings only the day of, and the reservation line opens at 3:00 p.m., sharp. Spots are first-come, first-served. Callers madly hit redial again and again in the hopes of cutting through the busy signals. By 3:30 all spots are booked. Please Don’t Tell doesn’t push market. It doesn’t try to hustle you in the door or sell you with a flashy website. It’s a classic “discovery brand.” Jim Meehan, the wizard behind Please Don’t Tell’s cocktail menu, designed the customer experience with that goal in mind. “The most powerful marketing is personal recommendation,” he said. “Nothing is more viral or infectious than one of your friends going to a place and giving it his full recommendation.” And what could be more remarkable than watching two people disappear into the back of a phone booth?” ( :22)

“Indeed, research finds that more than 40 percent of what people talk about is their personal experiences or personal relationships.” ( :23)

“Play a game with me for a minute. My colleague Carla drives a minivan. I could tell you many other things about her, but for now, I want to see how much you can deduce based solely on the fact that she drives a minivan. How old is Carla? Is she twenty-two? Thirty-five? Fifty-seven? I know you know very little about her, but try to make an educated guess. Does she have any kids? If so, do they play sports? Any idea what sports they play?” ( :23)

“Once you’ve made a mental note of your guesses, let’s talk about my friend Todd. He’s a really cool guy. He also happens to have a Mohawk. Any idea what he’s like? How old he is? What type of music he likes? Where he shops? I’ve played this game with hundreds of people and the results are always the same. Most people think Carla is somewhere between thirty and forty-five years old. All of them—yes, 100 percent— believe she has kids. Most are convinced those kids play sports, and almost everyone who believes that guesses that soccer is the sport of choice. All that from a minivan.” ( :24)

“(1) find inner remarkability; (2) leverage game mechanics; and (3) make people feel like insiders.” ( :24)


“But people share these and similar Snapple facts because they are remarkable. And talking about remarkable things provides social currency.” ( :25)

“Some people like to be the life of the party, but no one wants to be the death of it. We all want to be liked.” ( :26)

“Mysteries and controversy are also often remarkable. The Blair Witch Project is one of the most famous examples of this approach. Released in 1999, the film tells the story of three student filmmakers who hiked into the mountains of Maryland to film a documentary about a local legend called the Blair Witch. They supposedly disappeared, however, and viewers were told that the film was pieced together from “rediscovered” amateur footage that was shot on their hike. No one was sure if this was true.” ( :27)

“Shot on a handheld camera with a budget of about $35,000, the movie grossed more than $248 million worldwide.” ( :27)

“Toilet paper? Hardly seems remarkable. But a few years ago I made toilet paper one of the most talked-about conversation topics at a party. How? I put a roll of black toilet paper in the bathroom. Black toilet paper? No one had ever seen black toilet paper before. And that remarkability provoked discussion. Emphasize what’s remarkable about a product or idea and people will talk.” ( :28)

“So I did what people do who are so focused on achieving something that they lose their common sense. I paid more money to book a connecting flight. Rather than take a direct flight home, I flew a circuitous route, stopping in Boston for two hours just to make sure I had enough miles to make it over the threshold.” ( :28)

“Game mechanics are the elements of a game, application, or program—including rules and feedback loops—that make them fun and compelling. You get points for doing well at solitaire, there are levels of Sudoku puzzles, and golf tournaments have leaderboards. These elements tell players where they stand in the game and how well they are doing. Good game mechanics keep people engaged, motivated, and always wanting more.” ( :29)

“But game mechanics also motivate us on an interpersonal level by encouraging social comparison. A few years ago, students at Harvard University were asked to make a seemingly straightforward choice: which would they prefer, a job where they made $50,000 a year (option A) or one where they made $100,000 a year (option B)? Seems like a no-brainer, right? Everyone should take option B. But there was one catch. In option A, the students would get paid twice as much as others, who would only get $25,000. In option B, they would get paid half as much as others, who would get $200,000. So option B would make the students more money overall, but they would be doing worse than others around them. What did the majority of people choose? Option A.” ( :29)

“first class. After all, what good is status if no one else knows you have it? But every time he proudly shares his status, he’s also spreading the word about Delta. And this is how game mechanics boosts word of mouth. People are talking because they want to show off their achievements, but along the way they talk about the brands (Delta or Twitter) or domains (golf or the SAT) where they achieved.” ( :30)

“Many British supermarkets use a similarly intuitive labeling system. Just as with stoplights, they use red, yellow, or green circles to denote how much sugar, fat, and salt are in different products. Low-sodium sandwiches are marked with a green circle for salt while salty soups get a red circle. Anyone can immediately pick up on the system and understand how to behave as a result.” ( :31)

“And this brings us to the third way to generate social currency: making people feel like insiders.” ( :31)

“But by 2007 the website was floundering. Margins had always been low, but excitement about the brand had dissipated, and momentum was slowing. A number of related websites had also sprung up, and SmartBargains was struggling to differentiate itself from similar competitors.” ( :31)

“A year later Fischman started a new website called Rue La La. It carried high-end designer goods but focused on “flash sales” in which the deals were available for only a limited time—twenty-four hours or a couple of days at most. And the site followed the same model as sample sales in the fashion industry. Access was by invitation only. You had to be invited by an existing member. Sales took off, and the site did extremely well. So well, in fact, that in 2009 Ben sold both websites for $350 million. Rue La La’s success is particularly noteworthy, given one tiny detail. It sold the same products as SmartBargains. The exact same dresses, skirts, and suits. The same shoes, shirts, and slacks.” ( :32)

“And it was. Rue La La hit the ground running because it smartly leveraged the urgency factor. Part of this started by accident. Every morning the site posted new deals at 11:00 a.m. But in the first couple of months demand was so much higher than expected that by 11:03 a.m. everything would be sold out. Gone. So customers learned that if they didn’t get there right away, they’d miss out. As it has grown, Rue La La has maintained this limited availability. It still sells out 40 percent to 50 percent of items in the first hour. Sales have grown, but it’s not that revenue gets bigger across the course of the day. The traffic spikes at 11:00 a.m. have simply reached higher and higher levels.” ( :32)

“Scarcity and exclusivity help products catch on by making them seem more desirable. If something is difficult to obtain, people assume that it must be worth the effort.” ( :33)

“rt. If something is unavailable or sold out, people often infer that lots of other people must like it, and so it must be pretty good (something we’ll talk more about in the Public chapter).” ( :33)

“No one paid me for the hours I spent, and my friends and I didn’t even have a bet riding on the outcome. We were just playing for fun. And, of course, bragging rights. But since doing better than others is social currency, everyone was motivated to do well. Even without a monetary incentive.” ( :34)

“The drive to talk about ourselves brings us back full circle to Please Don’t Tell. The proprietors are smart. They understand that secrets boost social currency, but they don’t stop there. After you’ve paid for your drinks, your server hands you a small business card. All black, almost like the calling card of a psychic or wizard. In red script the card simply says “Please Don’t Tell” and includes a phone number.” ( :35)


2. Triggers


“BzzAgent then contacts the appropriate agents in its network and invites them to join a campaign. Those who agree get a kit in the mail containing information about the product and coupons or a free trial. Participants in the Sonicare campaign, for example, received a free toothbrush and ten-dollar mail-in rebates for additional toothbrushes to give to others. Participants in a Taco Bell campaign received free taco coupons. Because actual tacos are difficult to send in the mail. Then, over the next few months, BzzAgents file reports describing the conversations they had about the product. Importantly, BzzAgents are not paid. They’re in it for the chance to get free stuff and learn about new products before the rest of their friends and families. And they’re never pressured to say anything other than what they honestly believe, whether they like the product or not.” ( :37)

“Every day, the average American engages in more than sixteen word-ofmouth episodes, separate conversations where they say something positive or negative about an organization, brand, product, or service.” ( :37)

“BzzAgent simply harnesses the fact that people already talk about and share products and services with others. Give people a product they enjoy, and they’ll be happy to spread the word.” ( :38)

“We had been focused on whether certain aspects matter—specifically, whether more interesting, novel, or surprising products get talked about more. But as we soon realized, we also should have been examining when they matter. Some word of mouth is immediate, while some is ongoing. Imagine you’ve just gotten an e-mail about a new recycling initiative. Do you talk about it with your coworkers later that day? Mention it to your spouse that weekend? If so, you’re engaging in immediate word of mouth. This occurs when you pass on the details of an experience, or share new information you’ve acquired, soon after it occurs. Ongoing word of mouth, in contrast, covers the conversations you have in the weeks and months that follow. The movies you saw last month or a vacation you took last year.” ( :39)

“Back in mid-1997, the candy company Mars noticed an unexpected uptick in sales of its Mars bar. The company was surprised because it hadn’t changed its marketing in any way. It wasn’t spending additional money on advertising, it hadn’t changed its pricing, and it hadn’t run any special promotions. Yet sales had gone up. What had happened? NASA had happened. Specifically, NASA’s Pathfinder mission. The mission was designed to collect samples of atmosphere, climate, and soil from a nearby planet. The undertaking took years of preparation and millions of dollars in funding. When the lander finally touched down on the alien landscape, the entire world was rapt, and all news outlets featured NASA’s triumph. Pathfinder’s destination? Mars.” ( :40)

“Music researchers Adrian North, David Hargreaves, and Jennifer McKendrick examined how triggers might affect supermarket buying behavior more broadly. You know the Muzak you’re used to hearing while you shop for groceries? Well, North, Hargreaves, and McKendrick subtly replaced it with music from different countries. Some days they played French music while other days they played German music—what you’d expect to hear outside a French café on the banks of the Seine and what you might expect to hear at Oktoberfest. Then they measured the type of wine people purchased. When French music was playing, most customers bought French wine. When German music was” ( :40)

“playing most customers bought German wine. By triggering consumers to think of different countries, the music affected sales. The music made ideas related to those countries more accessible, and those accessible ideas spilled over to affect behavior.” ( :41)

“One group of students saw the slogan “Live the healthy way, eat five fruits and veggies a day.” Another group saw “Each and every dining-hall tray needs five fruits and veggies a day.”” ( :41)

“Our students didn’t care for the tray slogan. They called it “corny” and rated it as less than half as attractive as the more generic “live healthy” slogan. Further, when asked whether the slogan would influence their own fruit and vegetable consumption, the students who had been shown the “tray” slogan were significantly more likely to say no. But when it came to actual behavior, the effects were striking. Students who had been shown the more generic “live healthy” slogan didn’t change their eating habits. But students who had seen the “tray” slogan and used trays in their cafeterias markedly changed their behavior. The trays reminded them of the slogan and they ate 25 percent more fruits and vegetables as a result. The trigger worked.” ( :41)

“Could voting in a church lead people to think more negatively about abortion or gay marriage? Could voting in a school lead people to support education funding?” ( :42)

“But it wasn’t. More than ten thousand more people voted in favor of the school funding initiative when the polling place was a school. Polling location had a dramatic impact on voting behavior. And the initiative passed.” ( :42)

“The particular day of the week? You guessed it. Friday—just like the name of Rebecca Black’s song. So while the song was equally bad every day of the week, each Friday it received a strong trigger that contributed to its success.” ( :44)

“In this way, Ziploc bags are the antithesis of me going to teach dressed like a pirate. The pirate story is interesting, but it’s here today, gone tomorrow. Ziploc bags may be boring, but they get mentioned week in and week out because they are frequently triggered. By acting as reminders, triggers not only get people talking, they keep them talking. Top of mind means tip of tongue.” ( :44)

“Market research often focuses on consumers’ immediate reaction to an advertising message or campaign. That might be valuable in situations where the consumer is immediately offered a chance to buy the product. But in most cases, people hear an ad one day and then go to the store days or weeks later. If they’re not triggered to think about it, how will they remember that ad when they’re at the store?” ( :45)


“Colleen Chorak was able to link the two. Similarly, our trays experiment created a link between dining-room trays and a message to eat fruits and vegetables by repeatedly pairing the two ideas together. And by increasing the habitat for the message, these newly formed links helped the desired behavior catch on. Consider an experiment we conducted with BzzAgent and Boston Market. This fast-casual” ( :47)

“Linking a product or idea with a stimulus that is already associated with many things isn’t as effective as forging a fresher, more original link.” ( :48)

“Suddenly, he slips. Falling, he cracks his head on the tile floor. As he lies there, motionless, his arm twitches slightly. A voice-over somberly intones: “Preventing slips around your home can be as easy as using a bath mat.” Wow. Definitely surprising. Extremely memorable. So memorable, I think about it every time I take a shower in a bathroom that doesn’t have a mat on the floor. But there’s only one problem. I can’t buy a bath mat in a bathroom. The message is physically removed from the desired behavior. Unless I leave the bathroom, turn on my laptop, and buy a mat online, I have to remember the message until I get to a store.” ( :48)

“So the DOH made a video showing someone opening what seems like a normal soda can. But when he starts to pour it into a glass, out spills fat. Blob after blob of white, chunky fat. The guy picks the glass up and knocks the fat back just as one would a regular soda—chunks and all.” ( :49)

“Unlike the bath mat ad, its video triggered the message (don’t consume sugary drinks) at precisely the right time: when people are thinking of drinking a soda.” ( :49)

“ime of day or year. One study we conducted around Halloween, for example, found that people were much more likely to think about products associated with the color orange (such as orange soda or Reese’s Pieces) the day before Halloween than a week later. Before Halloween, all the orange stimuli in the environment (pumpkins and orange displays) triggered thoughts of orange products. But as soon as the holiday was over, those triggers disappeared, and so did thoughts of orange products. People moved on to thinking about Christmas or whatever holiday came next.” ( :49)

“It’s no accident that we think about reusable bags right when we get to the store. The grocery is a strong trigger for the bags. But unfortunately it is a badly timed one. Just as with the bath mat public service announcement, the idea is coming to mind, but at the wrong time. To solve this problem, we need to be reminded to bring the bags right when we are leaving the house.” ( :50)

“Mentions of Cheerios spike every day at approximately the same time. The first references occur at 5:00 a.m. They peak between 7:30 a.m. and 8:00 a.m. And they diminish around 11:00 a.m. This sharp increase and corresponding decline align precisely with the traditional time for breakfast. The pattern even shifts slightly on weekends when people eat breakfast later. Triggers drive talking.” ( :51)

“Triggers and cues lead people to talk, choose, and use. Social currency gets people talking, but Triggers keep them talking. Top of mind means tip of tongue.” ( :51)


3. Emotion


“The topic? How fluid and gas dynamic theories were being used in medical research.” ( :52)

“It turns out that science articles frequently chronicle innovations and discoveries that evoke a particular emotion in readers. That emotion? Awe.” ( :56)

“The bloodred gorge stretches as far as you can see in every direction. The canyon floor drops precipitously below your feet. You feel dizzy and step back from the edge. Hawks circle through rock crevasses so barren and stripped of vegetation you could as well be on the moon. You are amazed. You are humbled. You feel elevated. This is awe.” ( :56)

“Awe is a complex emotion and frequently involves a sense of surprise, unexpectedness, or mystery. Indeed, as Albert Einstein himself noted, “The most beautiful emotion we can experience is the mysterious. It is the power of all true art and science. He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer pause to wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead.”” ( :56)

“Our intuition was right: awe boosted sharing. Awe-inspiring articles were 30 percent more likely” ( :56)

“As the opening chords from “I Dreamed a Dream” from Les Misérables wafted over the speakers, Susan Boyle’s exquisite voice shone through like a beacon. So powerful, so beautiful that it makes the hair on the back of your neck stand up. The judges were awed, the audience screamed, and everyone broke out into wild applause. Some started tearing up as they listened. The performance left people speechless. Susan Boyle’s first appearance on Britain’s Got Talent is one of the most viral videos ever. In just nine short days, the clip accumulated more than 100 million views.” ( :57)

“But this wasn’t the case. In fact, it was the opposite. Articles that evoked anger or anxiety were more likely to make the Most E-Mailed list. Now we were really confused. Clearly, something more complicated than whether an article was positive or negative determined how widely things were shared. But what?” ( :59)

“Though your head kept saying you weren’t really in danger, your body was convinced otherwise. Every sense was heightened. Your muscles were tensed and you were alert to every sound, smell, and movement. This is arousal.” ( :59)

“Take sadness. Whether dealing with a tough breakup or the death of a beloved pet, sad people tend to power down. They put on some cozy clothes, curl up on the couch, and eat a bowl of ice cream. Contentment also deactivates. When people are content, they relax. Their heart rates slow, and their blood pressure decreases. They’re happy, but they don’t particularly feel like doing anything. Think of how you feel after a long hot shower or a relaxing massage. You’re more likely to relax and sit still” ( :59)

“than leap into another activity.” ( :60)

“HIGH AROUSAL LOW AROUSAL Awe POSITIVE Excitement Contentment Amusement (Humor) Sadness Anger NEGATIVE Anxiety” ( :60)

“And that is where emotion comes in. Rather than harping on features or facts, we need to focus on feelings; the underlying emotions that motivate people to action.” ( :61)

“In a telling story, a designer once suggested using a certain shade of blue for the toolbar based on its visual appeal. But the product manager resisted using the color, asking the designer to justify that choice with quantitative research. At Google, colors aren’t just colors, they’re mathematical decisions.” ( :62)

“So together with the Creative Lab team, Cafaro developed a video entitled “Parisian Love.” The clip tells a budding love story, using Google searches that evolve over time. No images of people, or even voices—just the phrases entered in the search bar and the results that emerge. It starts when a guy enters “study abroad Paris France” and clicks on one of the top search results to learn more. Later he searches for “cafés near the Louvre,” and scans to find one he thinks he’ll like. You hear a female laugh in the background as his next entry is “translate tu es très mignon,” which he soon learns is French for “you are very cute.” Quickly he then seeks advice on how to “impress a French girl,” reads up on the suggestions, and searches for chocolate shops in Paris. The music builds as the plot unfolds. We follow the searcher as he transitions from seeking longdistance relationship advice to job hunting in Paris. We see him tracking a plane’s landing time and then searching for Paris churches (to the accompaniment of church bells in the background). Finally, as the music crescendos, we see him asking how to assemble a crib. The video ends with a simple message. “Search on.” You cannot watch this clip without having your heartstrings tugged. It’s romantic, joyous, and inspiring all at once. I still feel tingles every time I see it, and I’ve watched it dozens of times.” ( :62)

“”The best results don’t show up in a search engine, they show up in people’s lives.” Well said.” ( :63)

“In their wonderful book Made to Stick, Chip and Dan Heath talk about using the “Three Whys” to find the emotional core of an idea.” ( :63)

“idea. Write down why you think people are doing something. Then ask “Why is this important?” three times. Each time you do this, note your answer, and you’ll notice that you drill down further and further toward uncovering not only the core of an idea, but the emotion behind it. Take online search. Why is search important? Because people want to find information quickly. Why do they want to do that? So they can get answers to what they are looking for. Why do they want those answers? So they can connect with people, achieve their goals, and fulfill their dreams. Now that’s starting to get more emotional.” ( :63)

“ge glob of white fat plopping down on a plate? Gross! But because disgust is a highly arousing emotion, it encouraged people to talk about and share the PSA. Designing messages that make people anxious or disgusted (high arousal) rather than sad (low arousal) will boost transmission. Negative emotions, when used correctly, can be a powerful driver of discussion. And that brings us to babywearing.” ( :64)


“sort boosts sharing, then running in place should lead people to share things with others. Even if the things people are talking about or sharing have nothing to do with the reason they are experiencing arousal. And it did. Among students who had been instructed to jog, 75 percent shared the article—more than twice as many as the students who had been in the “relaxed” group. Thus any sort of arousal, whether from emotional or physical sources, and even arousal due to the situation itself (rather than content), can boost transmission.” ( :66)

“margaritas. But there is also a third reason. If situational factors end up making us physiologically aroused, we may end up sharing more than we planned. So be careful the next time you step off the treadmill, barely avoid a car accident, or experience a turbulent plane ride. Because you’ve been aroused by these experiences, you may overshare information with others in the aftermath. These ideas also suggest that one way” ( :66)

“Whether it’s a digital product, like Google, or a physical product, like sneakers, you should make something that will move people. People don’t want to feel like they’re being told something—they want to be entertained, they want to be moved.” ( :66)


4. Public


“So Jobs asked Ken’s team a question. Which is more important—to have the logo look right to the customers before they opened their PowerBook, or to make it look right to the rest of the world when the laptop was in use?” ( :69)

“Making something more observable makes it easier to imitate. Thus a key factor in driving products to catch on is public visibility. If something is built to show, it’s built to grow.” ( :69)

“If you’re like most people you’d probably follow a time-tested rule of thumb: look for a restaurant full of people. If lots of people are eating there, it’s probably good. If a place is empty, you should probably keep on walking.” ( :69)

“This is just one example of a much broader phenomenon. People often imitate those around them. They dress in the same styles as their friends, pick entrées preferred by other diners, and reuse hotel towels more when they think others are doing the same. People are more likely to vote if their spouse votes, more likely to quit smoking if their friends quit, and more likely to get fat if their friends become obese. Whether making trivial choices like what brand of coffee to buy or important decisions like paying their taxes, people tend to conform to what others are doing. Television shows use canned laugh tracks for this reason: people are more likely to laugh when they hear others laughing.” ( :69)

“proof.” This is why baristas and bartenders seed the tip jar at the beginning of their shift by dropping in a handful of ones and maybe a five. If the tip jar is empty, their customers may assume that other people aren’t really tipping and decide not to tip much” ( :69)

“themselves either. But if the tip jar is already brimming with money, they assume that everyone must be tipping, and thus they should tip as well. Social proof even plays a role in matters of” ( :70)

“In New York City, Halal Chicken and Gyro offers delicious platters of chicken and lamb, lightly seasoned rice, and pita bread. New York magazine ranked it as one of the top twenty food carts in the city, and people wait up to an hour to get one of Halal’s tasty but inexpensive meals. Go during certain times of day and the line will stretch all the way down the block. Now I know what you are thinking. People must wait that long because the food is really good. And you’re partially right: the food is quite good. But the same owners operate an almost identical food cart called Halal Guys right across the street. Same food, same packaging, basically an identical product. But there is no line. In fact, Halal Guys has never developed the same devout following as its sibling. Why? Social proof. People assume that the longer the line, the better the food must be.” ( :70)

“More than two-thirds say they want to get into investment banking or consulting, with a small sprinkling of other careers.” ( :71)

“Johannessen was pleased. The fact that most students were against binge drinking seemed to bode well for eliminating the drinking problem—until she thought about it closely. If most students were uncomfortable with the drinking culture, then why was it happening in the first place? Why were students drinking so much if they don’t actually like it? Because behavior is public and thoughts are private.” ( :72)

“But not because everyone else understood the presentation. The others were probably just as bewildered as you were. But while they would have liked to raise their hands, they didn’t because each one is worried that he or she is the only person who didn’t understand. Why? Because no one else was asking questions. No one saw any public signal that others were confused so everyone keeps his doubts to himor herself. Because behavior is public and thoughts are private.” ( :72)

“Sure enough, we found a pretty impressive effect. People who lived in, say, Denver, were more likely to buy a new car if other Denverites had bought new cars recently. And the effect was pretty big. Approximately one out of every eight cars sold was because of social influence.” ( :73)

“Everyone had so much fun that the next November they decided to do it again. But this time they decided to put a cause behind their efforts. Inspired by the work being done with breast cancer awareness, they wanted to do something similar for men’s health. So they formed the Movember Foundation and adopted the tagline “Changing the face of men’s health.” That year 450 guys raised $54,000 for the Prostate Cancer Foundation of Australia.” ( :74)

“The Movember Foundation succeeded because they figured out how to make the private public. They figured out how to take support for an abstract cause—something not typically observable—and make it something that everyone can see. For the thirty days of November people who sport a moustache effectively become walking, talking billboards for the cause. As noted on Movember’s website, Through their actions and words they [participants] raise awareness by prompting private and public conversations around the often-ignored issue of men’s health.” ( :74)

“Koreen Johannessen was able to reduce Arizona students’ drinking by making the private public. She created ads in the school newspaper that merely stated the true norm. That most students had only one or two drinks, and 69 percent have four or fewer drinks, when they party. She didn’t focus on the health consequences of drinking, she focused on social information. By showing students that the majority of their peers weren’t bingeing, she helped them realize that others felt the same way. That most students didn’t want to binge. This corrected the false inferences students had made about others’ behavior and led them to reduce their own drinking as a result. By making the private public, Johannessen was able to decrease heavy drinking by almost 30 percent.” ( :75)

“Apple and BlackBerry have adopted the same strategy. The signature lines at the bottom of their emails often say “Sent using BlackBerry” or “Sent from my iPhone.” Users can easily change this default message to something else (one of my colleagues changed his signature to say “Sent by Carrier Pigeon”), but most people don’t, in part because they like the Social Currency the notes provide.” ( :75)

“If a company or organization is lucky, people consume its product or service often. But what about the rest of the time? When consumers are wearing other clothes, supporting a different cause, or doing something else entirely? Is there something that generates social proof that sticks around even when the product is not being used or the idea is not top of mind? Yes. And it’s called behavioral residue.” ( :77)

“Lance had a powerful story. Diagnosed with life-threatening testicular cancer seven years earlier, Lance had been given only a 40 percent chance of survival. But he surprised everyone not only by returning to cycling, but by coming back stronger than ever. Since his return, he had won the Tour de France an astounding five times in a row and inspired millions of people along the way. From fifteenyear-olds dealing with cancer to college students trying to stay in shape, Lance helped people to believe. If he could come back from cancer, they could overcome the challenges in their own lives.” ( :77)

“Yellow was chosen because it is the color of the race leader’s jersey in the Tour de France. It’s also not strongly associated with either gender, making it easy for both men and women to wear. But it was also a smart decision from an observability perspective. Yellow is a color people almost never see.” ( :78)

“This public visibility helped make the product a huge success. Not only did Nike sell the first 5 million bands, but it did so within the first six months of release. Production couldn’t keep up with demand. The wristbands were such a hot item that people started bidding ten times the retail price to snag them on eBay. In the end, more than 85 million wristbands were sold. You might even know someone who wears one to this day. Not bad for a little piece of plastic.” ( :78)

“But in the 1980s election officials came up with a nice way to make voting more observable: the “I Voted” sticker. Simple enough, but by creating behavioral residue, the sticker made the private act of voting much more public, even after people left the polling station. It provided a ready reminder that today is the day to vote, others are doing it, and you should too.” ( :78)

“But some of these giveaways provide better behavioral residue than others. Giving away a makeup carrying case is fine, but women usually apply makeup in the privacy of their bathrooms, so it doesn’t make the brand that observable. Coffee mugs and gym bags might be used less frequently, but their use is more publicly visible.” ( :79)

“In fact, the messages actually seemed to increase drug use. Kids aged twelve and a half to eighteen who saw the ads were actually more likely to smoke marijuana. Why? Because it made drug use more public. Think about observability and social proof. Before seeing the message, some kids might never have thought about taking drugs. Others might have considered it but have been wary about doing the wrong thing. But anti-drug ads often say two things simultaneously. They say that drugs are bad, but they also say that other people are doing them. And as we’ve discussed throughout this chapter, the more others seem to be doing something, the more likely people are to think that thing is right or normal and what they should be doing as well.” ( :80)

“Our basic hypothesis is that the more kids saw these ads, the more they came to believe that lots of other kids were using marijuana. And the more they came to believe that other kids were using marijuana, the more they became interested in using it themselves.” ( :80)

“Less than half of people are paying for their music? Wow. Seems like you’d have to be an idiot to pay for it then, right?” ( :81)

“One way is to highlight what people should be doing instead. Psychologist Bob Cialdini and colleagues wanted to decrease the number of people who stole petrified wood from Arizona’s Petrified Forest National Park. So they posted signs around the park that tried different strategies. One asked people not to take the wood because “many past visitors have removed petrified wood from the Park, changing the natural state of the Petrified Forest.” But by providing social proof that others were stealing, the message had a perverse effect, almost doubling the number of people taking wood!” ( :81)

“It’s been said that when people are free to do as they please, they usually imitate one another. We look to others for information about what is right or good to do in a given situation, and this social proof shapes everything from the products we buy to the candidates we vote for.” ( :81)


5. Practical Value


“But Ken Craig is eighty-six years old. And the video that went viral? It’s about shucking corn.” ( :82)

“When writer and editor William F. Buckley Jr. was asked which single book he would take with him to a desert island, his reply was straightforward: “A book on shipbuilding.”” ( :83)

“Sure, sharing useful things benefits the sharer as well. Helping others feels good. It even reflects positively on the sharer, providing a bit of Social Currency. But at its core, sharing practical value is about helping others. The Emotions chapter noted that when we care, we share. But the opposite is also true. Sharing is caring.” ( :84)

“Not surprisingly, the size of the discount influences how good a deal seems. Saving a hundred dollars, for example, tends to be more exciting than saving one dollar. Saving 50 percent is more exciting than saving 10 percent. You don’t have to be a brain surgeon to realize that people like (and share) bigger discounts more than smaller ones.” ( :84)

“Scenario B, however, probably didn’t look so good. After all, it’s only fifteen dollars off, nowhere near as good as the first deal. You probably said you’d keep looking rather than buy that one. I found similar results when I gave each scenario to one hundred different people. While 75 percent of the people who received scenario A said they’d buy the grill rather than keep looking, only 22 percent of people who received scenario B said they’d buy the grill. This all makes perfect sense—until you think about the final price at each store. Both stores were selling the same grill. So if anything, people should have been more likely to say they would buy it at the store where the price was lower (scenario B). But they weren’t. In fact, the opposite happened. More people said they would purchase the grill in scenario A, even though they would have had to pay a higher price ($250 rather than $240) to get it. What gives?” ( :85)

“On a cold, wintry day in December 2002, Daniel Kahneman walked onstage to address a packed lecture hall at Sweden’s Stockholm University. The audience was filled with Swedish diplomats, dignitaries, and some of the world’s most prominent academics. Kahneman was there to give a talk on bounded rationality, a new perspective on intuitive judgment and choice. He had given related talks over the years, but this one was slightly different. Kahneman was in Stockholm to accept the Nobel Prize in Economics.” ( :85)

“The theory is amazingly rich, but at its core, it’s based on a very basic idea. The way people actually make decisions often violates standard economic assumptions about how they should make decisions. Judgments and decisions are not always rational or optimal. Instead, they are based on psychological principles of how people perceive and process information. Just as perceptual processes influence whether we see a particular sweater as red or view an object on the horizon as far away, they also influence whether a price seems high or a deal seems good. Along with Richard Thaler’s work, Kahneman and Tversky’s research is some of the earliest studying what we now think of as “behavioral economics.”” ( :86)

“You see the same phenomenon at work if you go to the movies or the store with people in their seventies or eighties. They often complain about the prices. “What?” they exclaim. “No way am I paying eleven dollars for a movie ticket. That’s such a rip-off!” It might seem that old people are stingier than the rest of us. But there is a more fundamental reason that they think the prices are unfair. They have different reference points. They remember the days when a movie ticket was forty cents and steak was ninety-five cents a pound, when toothpaste was twenty-nine cents and paper towels cost a dime.” ( :86)

“To test this possibility, Anderson and Simester created two different versions of the catalog and mailed each to more than fifty thousand people. In one version some of the products (let’s call them dresses) were marked with signs that said “Pre-Season SALE.” In the other version the dresses were not marked as on sale. Sure enough, marking those items as on sale increased demand. By more than 50 percent. The kicker? The prices of the dresses were the same in both versions of the catalog. So using the word “sale” beside a price increased sales even though the price itself stayed the same.” ( :87)

“What would you do in this situation? Would you be willing to drive twenty minutes to save $10 on the television? If you’re like most people, this time around you probably said no. Why drive twenty minutes to” ( :87)

“save a few bucks on a TV? You’d probably spend more on gas than what you’d save on the product. In fact, when I gave each scenario to one hundred different people, 87 percent said they’d buy the television at the first store while only 17 percent said the same for the clock radio. But if you think about it, these two scenarios are essentially the same. They’re both about driving twenty minutes to save $10. So people should have been equally willing to take the drive in each scenario. Except they weren’t. While almost everyone is willing to endure the drive for the cheaper clock radio, almost no one is willing to do it when buying a TV. Why? Diminishing sensitivity reflects the idea that the same change has a smaller impact the farther it is from the reference point. Imagine that you enter a lottery at your office or your child’s school. You’re not expecting to get much out of it, but to your surprise you win $10. Lucky you! Winning anything is great, so you’d probably be pretty happy about it.” ( :88)

“Researchers find that whether a discount seems larger as money or percentage off depends on the original price. For low-priced products, like books or groceries, price reductions seem more significant when they are framed in percentage terms. Twenty percent off that $25 shirt seems like a better deal than $5 off. For high-priced products, however, the opposite is true. For things like laptops or other big-ticket items, framing price reductions in dollar terms (rather than percentage terms) makes them seem like a better offer. The laptop seems like a better deal when it is $200 off rather than 10 percent off.” ( :89)

“Practical advice is shareable advice. In thinking about why some useful content gets shared more, a couple of points are worth noting. The first is how the information is packaged. Vanguard doesn’t send out a rambling four-page e-mail with twenty-five advice links about fifteen different topics. It sends out a short, one-page note, with a key header article and three or four main links below it. It’s easy to see what the main points are, and if you want to find out more, you can simply click on the links.” ( :91)

“So while broadly relevant content could be shared more, content that is obviously relevant to a narrow audience may actually be more viral.” ( :92)

“All this would be good if the link between vaccines and autism were true. But it’s not. There is no scientific evidence that vaccines cause autism. The original paper turned out to be a fraud. The doctor who authored it had manipulated evidence, apparently owing to conflict of interest, and after being found guilty of serious professional misconduct, lost his medical license. But even though the information was false, lots of people shared it. The reason is practical value.” ( :92)

“value. People weren’t trying to share false things, they just heard something they thought was useful and they wanted others’ kids to be safe. But many people didn’t hear the news that the original report had been discredited, and so they continued to share an incorrect narrative. Our desire to share helpful things is so powerful that it can make even false ideas succeed. Sometimes the drive to help takes a wrong turn.” ( :92)


6. Stories


“Of course. But would the lesson have had the same impact? Probably not. By encasing the lesson in a story, these early writers ensured that it would be passed along—and perhaps even be believed more wholeheartedly than if the lesson’s words were spoken simply and plainly. That’s because people don’t think in terms of information. They think in terms of narratives.” ( :94)

“But while people focus on the story itself, information comes along for the ride.” ( :95)

“Stories carry things. A lesson or moral. Information or a take-home message. Take the famous story “The Three Little Pigs.”” ( :95)

“My cousin’s experience makes for a nice story, but when you look closer there is also a huge amount of useful information hidden in the narrative: (1) Topcoats look great but aren’t really warm enough for a bitter East Coast winter. (2) Down coats make you look like a mummy, but they’re worth getting if you want to stay warm. (3) Lands’ End makes a really warm winter coat. (4) It also has outstanding customer service. (5) If something goes wrong, Lands’ End will fix it. These are just a handful of the nuggets of knowledge woven into a deceptively simple story.” ( :97)

“First, it’s hard to disagree with a specific thing that happened to a specific person. What is someone going to tell my cousin, “No, I think you’re lying, there’s no way Lands’ End would be that nice”? Hardly. Second, we’re so caught up in the drama of what happened to so-and-so that we don’t have the cognitive resources to disagree. We’re so engaged in following the narrative that we don’t have the energy to question what is being said. So in the end, we’re much more likely to be persuaded.” ( :98)

“Contrast that with the Jared story. Jared Fogle lost 245 pounds eating Subway sandwiches. Bad eating habits and lack of exercise led Jared to balloon to 425 pounds in college. He was so heavy that he picked his courses based on whether the classroom had large-enough seats for him to be comfortable rather than whether he liked the material. But after his roommate pointed out that his health was” ( :98)

“But he didn’t stop there. Jared kept up his diet. Soon his pants size had dropped from an enormous sixty inches to a normal thirty-four-inch waist. He lost all that weight and had Subway to thank. The Jared story is so entertaining that people bring it up even when they’re not talking about weight loss. The amount of weight he lost is impressive, but even more astonishing is the fact that he lost it eating Subway sandwiches. A guy loses 245 pounds eating fast food? The summary alone is enough to draw people in.” ( :98)

“And that is the magic of stories. Information travels under the guise of what seems like idle chatter.” ( :98)

“One night his girlfriend at the time was putting on makeup to go out when it hit him. He realized that girls needed to be exposed to the before before the after. What models look like before the makeup and hair styling and retouching and Photoshop swoop in to make them “perfect.” So he created a short film.” ( :99)

“But the film wasn’t sponsored by concerned citizens or an industry watchdog group. Piper made the film in coordination with Dove, maker of health and beauty products, as part of its “Campaign for Real Beauty.” This was Dove’s effort to celebrate the natural physical variations we all have and then to inspire women to be confident and comfortable with themselves. Another ad for soap featured real women of all shapes and sizes, rather than the rail-thin models people are used to seeing.” ( :100)

“But I’d like to add another one to the list. The stunt had nothing to do with the product it was trying to promote.” ( :101)

“It’s like building a magnificent Trojan Horse but forgetting to put anything inside.” ( :101)

“When trying to generate word of mouth, many people forget one important detail. They focus so much on getting people to talk that they ignore the part that really matters: what people are talking about.” ( :102)

“But while you might think that all this attention would benefit the brand, it didn’t. That same year Evian lost market share and sales dropped almost 25 percent. The problem? Roller-skating babies are cute, but they have nothing to do with Evian. So people shared the clip, but that didn’t benefit the brand.” ( :102)

“Not just virality but valuable virality.” ( :102)

“Virality is most valuable when the brand or product benefit is integral to the story. When it’s woven so deeply into the narrative that people can’t tell the story without mentioning it.” ( :102)

“Then, pandemonium ensues (excuse the pun). The panda slowly walks toward the shopping cart, calmly places both hands on its sides, and flips it over. Food flies all over the aisle—pasta, canned goods, and liquids everywhere. The stare-down continues as the father and the panda stand on opposite ends of the cart. A long pause ensues. Then the panda kicks the overturned food for good measure. “Never say no to Panda,” a voice intones as a” ( :102)

“panda hand flashes the product on the screen.” ( :103)

“So the best part of the story and the brand name are perfectly intertwined. That increases the chance not only that people telling the story will talk about Panda the brand, but also that they will remember what product the commercial is for, days or even weeks later. Panda is part and parcel of the story. It’s an essential part of the narrative. The same can be said for Blendtec’s Will It Blend? campaign. It’s impossible to tell the story of the clips where the blender tears through an iPhone without talking about a blender. And without recognizing that the Blendtec blender in the videos must be extremely tough—so strong that it can blend almost anything. Which is exactly what Blendtec wants to communicate.” ( :103)

“They found that the amount of information shared dropped dramatically each time the rumor was shared. Around 70 percent of the story details were lost in the first five to six transmissions.” ( :104)

“If you want to craft contagious content, try to build your own Trojan Horse. But make sure you think about valuable virality. Make sure the information you want people to remember and transmit is critical to the narrative. Sure, you can make your narrative funny, surprising, or entertaining. But if people don’t connect the content back to you, it’s not going to help you very much. Even if it goes viral. So build a Social Currency-laden, Triggered, Emotional, Public, Practically Valuable Trojan Horse, but don’t forget to hide your message inside. Make sure your desired information is so embedded into the plot that people can’t tell the story without it.” ( :104)




“Today, 80 percent of manicurists in California are Vietnamese Americans. Nationwide the number is greater than 40 percent. Vietnamese nail salons became contagious.” ( :105)

“Other immigrant groups have cornered similar niches. Estimates suggest that Cambodian Americans own approximately 80 percent of the doughnut shops in Los Angeles, and that Koreans own 65 percent of the dry cleaners in New York City. In the 1850s, 60 percent of the liquor stores in Boston were run by Irishmen. In the early 1900s, Jews produced 85 percent of men’s clothes. The list goes on.” ( :106)

“When you think about it, these stories make a lot of sense. People move to a new country and start looking for work. But while the immigrants may have had various skilled jobs previously, their options in the new country are often limited. There is a language barrier, it’s tough to transfer previous certifications or qualifications, and they don’t have as many contacts as they had back home. So immigrants look to their friends and acquaintances for help. And as with the rest of the products and ideas we’ve talked about throughout the book, social influence and word of mouth kick in. The topic of employment is frequent among new immigrants looking for work (Triggers). So they look to see what jobs other recent immigrants have taken (Public) and talk to them about the best opportunities. These more established immigrants want to look good (Social Currency) and help others (Practical Value) so they tell exciting (Emotion) narratives (Stories) about others they know who have been successful. Soon these new immigrants follow their peers and pursue the same line of work.” ( :106)

“Duncan Watts makes a nice comparison to forest fires. Some forest fires are bigger than others, but no one would claim that the size of the fire depends on the exceptional nature of the initial spark. Big forest fires aren’t caused by big sparks. Lots of individual trees have to catch fire and carry the flames. Contagious products and ideas are like forest fires. They can’t happen without hundreds, if not thousands, of regular Joes and Janes passing the product or message along. So why did thousands of people transmit these products and ideas?” ( :106)

“Social Currency We share things that make us look good Triggers Top of mind, tip of tongue Emotion When we care, we share Public Built to show, built to grow Practical Value News you can use Stories Information travels under the guise of idle chatter” ( :107)

“So if we’re trying to make a product or idea contagious, think about how to build in these key STEPPS.” ( :107)

“Social Does talking about your product or idea make people look good? Can you find the inner remarkability? Leverage game Currency mechanics? Make people feel like insiders?” ( :107)

“Triggers Consider the context. What cues make people think about your product or idea? How can you grow the habitat and make it come to mind more often? Emotion Focus on feelings. Does talking about your product or idea generate emotion? How can you kindle the fire? Does your product or idea advertise itself? Can people see when others are using it? If not, how can you make the private Public public? Can you create behavioral residue that sticks around even after people use it? Practical Does talking about your product or idea help people help others? How can you highlight incredible value, packaging your Value knowledge and expertise into useful information others will want to disseminate? What is your Trojan Horse? Is your product or idea embedded in a broader narrative that people want to share? Is the story Stories not only viral, but also valuable?” ( :108)

“and books by Seth Godin, Stanley Lieberson, Everett Rogers, Emanuel Rosen, Thomas Schelling, and Jonathan Weiner” ( :109)

“out to people like Glenn Moglen, who introduced me to academic research; Emily Pronin, who introduced me to social psychology; Noah Mark, who introduced me to sociology; and Lee Ross and Itamar Simonson, who said to always shoot for big ideas.” ( :109)

“My brother, Fred, Danny, and the whole Bruno family not only gave feedback on the drafts but reminded me why I was doing all of this in the first place.” ( :109)

“5) What is an example where you’ve noticed yourself being motivated by scarcity? New high tech devices (new phones, gadgets, etc.) are frequently scarce when they are released. Does possession of these products carry social currency? Does their frequent release (a veritable flooding of the market) make them less scarce?” ( :110)

“8) Without thinking too hard, what is currently top of mind for you? Can you identify triggers is your own life that bring things to mind? For example, whenever I see or hear __________ I think about ____________.” ( :110)

“1. Perform an experiment and monitor the “most emailed” section of for a week. Do you begin to notice patterns in what is shared? Consider arousal emotions, practical value, and the very subject matter of the articles.” ( :111)

“There is a key difference between psychology and marketing tactics. We may get over-saturated with a particular tactic (e.g., pop-up ads or a certain style of ad) but the underlying psychology that drove” ( :112)

“us to like it still remains. If every company makes their product “scarce” consumers will start to catch on, but does that mean we’ll stop valuing scarcity altogether? Probably not.” ( :113)

Check out more book notes at How I Read 90 Books In The Past 2 Years By Reading 20 Pages A Day

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