Contagious: Why Things Catch On

Jonah Berger. Simon & Schuster, $26 (224p) ISBN 978-1-4516-8657-9
Faster-spreading than the flu are the ordinary conversations people have about products and ideas, according to this infectious treatise on viral marketing. Drawing on his own nifty research, Wharton marketing professor Berger investigates all manner of phenomena—surging name brands, chic restaurants, YouTube hits, most–e-mailed articles—that catch on through word-of-mouth popularity. There are discernible dynamics behind the apparent chaos of trendiness, he argues: we naturally want to talk about things that seem fashionable, secretive, useful, or remarkable, that arouse our emotions, that come to mind frequently in mundane settings, and that wrap themselves in compelling stories. He applies these principles to illuminate a slew of marketing and PR conundrums, explaining why a Philadelphia restaurant prospered by charging $100 for a cheese steak, why “Just Say No” ads may make kids say yes, why people sometimes pay more to get a discount, and why that Budweiser commercial featuring dudes saying “Wassup?” was a stroke of genius. 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. Agent: James Levine, Levine/Greenberg Agency. (Mar.)
Reviewed on: 11/19/2012
Release date: 03/05/2013
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