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Contagious: Why Things Catch On Hardcover – March 5, 2013

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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)

"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)

“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)

“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)

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

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

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster (March 5, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1451686579
  • ISBN-13: 978-1451686579
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1 x 8.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (442 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,485 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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More About the Author

For more details see:

Jonah Berger is a Marketing professor at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. He has published dozens of articles in top-tier academic journals, and popular accounts of his work have appeared in places like The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, Science, Harvard Business Review, Wired, BusinessWeek, and Fast Company. His research has also been featured in The New York Times Magazine's annual "Year in Ideas" issue.

Berger has been recognized with awards for both scholarship and teaching, including being named Wharton's "Iron Prof" in recognition of awesome faculty research. He received his Ph.D. from the Stanford Graduate School of Business.

Customer Reviews

This book will teach you how great marketing campaigns and ideas are designed.
Maher Daoudi
Berger's book is a very easy read, and he does a good job of using academic studies and interesting real-world examples to help prove his points.
A. D. Thibeault
I really enjoyed reading this book and highly recommend it for anyone looking to create or improve their business.

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

93 of 98 people found the following review helpful By Jim Williams, Influitive on March 12, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
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.
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77 of 90 people found the following review helpful By Jonathan Goodman on March 5, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I'm not sure where or when I first discovered Jonah's research, but my career hasn't been the same since. In my opinion, there isn't anybody on the planet who knows more about what makes information spread.

On a personal note, his New York Times study featured prominently in Contagious was the final piece of the puzzle behind the theory in my second book. Jonah goes back to the results in this mammoth study a number of times throughout this book to give you a full understanding of the fascinating results.

In full disclosure, I obtained an early copy of Contagious. As a blogger and Internet marketer my livelihood depends on being the first to understand the newest social contagion theories. Because of that, I requested an early copy from Jonah and he was nice enough to oblige.

First, what I disliked about Contagious, and there were three things:

1. Much of Contagious is an explanation of his work in a more organized, concise, and interesting manner. Because of that, not a lot of the material is new if you've already read his studies.

2. The book is based on 6 principles: social currency, triggers, emotion, public, practical value, and stories. Each principle is described in detail and are the major sections of the book.

I was disappointed with the practical value section as I felt that it was a rather superficial overview of what's now become known as behavioral economics. Jonah describes "prospect theory" originally put forth by Daniel Kahneman and uses it to explain how irrationally we behave in our purchasing habits. In particular, he discusses how we value goods and services relative to a precedent and how that precedent isn't necessarily an accurate portrayal of the actual value of the product in question.
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178 of 228 people found the following review helpful By I am C, Not X on March 5, 2013
Format: Hardcover
If this material is enough to cover an entire Wharton MBA course, then I'm not sure what that says about Wharton's program. There is just not that much information in this book far beyond common sense most people already intuitively know. I had been looking forward to this book release as the topic is interesting and even possesses its own themed six characteristics, conveniently ascribed the acronym STEPPS, which the author Jonah Berger explains contributes to why products or ideas become contagious. Mr. Berger argues that if we want our product or idea to catch on and spread like wildfire, we must try to build into it as many of these six STEPPS as we can. STEPPS stands for:

Social currency
Practical Value

If discussing something makes you look interesting or cool or special, then that something provides you with "Social currency'.

If there is built into a product or idea easy cues that can trigger it to come to mind, then it has a strong 'Trigger'.

If the brand/concept can evoke emotions of anger or good will/ happiness (but note NOT sadness - since we don't want our friends/family to be sad and therefore are not inclined to share something likely to invoke sadness), then it has 'Emotion'.

If your product or cause can be broadcast to others, it is 'Public'.

If it provides 'Practical value', it is more likely to be shared.

Lastly, if a memorable story can be spun around it, then it has the added benefit of having a 'Story'.

Now, let's apply STEPPS to the book itself: 1) Clearly, the answer the book claims to explain (Why do certain products and ideas go viral?
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