Lessons in Viral Marketing Book Review – Contagious – Jonah Berger

On October 14, 2016, Posted by , In Uncategorized, With tags , , With Comments Off on Lessons in Viral Marketing Book Review – Contagious – Jonah Berger

screen-shot-2016-10-14-at-16-05-51Have you ever wondered, why some ideas and products seem to catch on easily with your audience?

As marketers, we are often led to believe that digital marketing is the current and future of all marketing. People are spending so much time online, it seems obvious that for an idea to spread, it has to be effectively targeted online using a variety of techniques. We design strategies to take advantage of the fact that people are spending a daily average of 2-3 hours online. However, what about the other 20 plus hours? How can we capitalise on all that time? Answer: By building word of mouth, not just marketing campaigns.

Jonah Berger’s book, Contagious, wonderfully explains how certain ideas seem to propagate beyond expectations. It’s not a book where the author provides a list of ’12 things to achieve success...’, though it does provide a handy guide of the qualities that could make your ideas spread more easily. These qualities can be applied to any product or service, in any industry, and each idea can contain all of the below qualities, or only one of them – it all depends on the nature of the service.

The six principles, according to Mr. Berger, that you might initially apply to your ideas to get them to spread more easily are these:

  1. Think about Social Currency – Make your audience feel like insiders. A recent example is the smartphone manufacturer, OnePlus, that released their first versions of smartphones on an invitation only basis, thus securing a loyal customer base. An example from the book includes a hidden bar in NYC, accessed through a telephone box, and called ‘Please Don’t Tell’. Access is by reservation only, and before they leave, patrons are given two identical business cards, with the words ‘Please Don’t Tell’ on the front, and their telephone number on the back. Awesome! By making an audience feel like insiders, marketers can instil a sense of belonging to their marketing messages.
  2. Triggers – Things that remind people of your idea. Question: Which gets most word of mouth – Cheerios, or Disney World? Think… You might say that the answer is Disney World, however, it’s actually Cheerios. Why? You will find Cheerios on your table every day, so it’s far easier to start conversations about it. Another example: ‘Have a break, have a KitKat!’. If you are having a break, you are more likely to buy a KitKat. i.e. think about the context your intended audience will be in when formulating your campaigns! 
  1. Emotional Resonance – The thing that makes your idea relate to the audience and your audience want to share the idea. Sometimes we design our marketing messages to convey information only. A better method would be to also think about emotion. Let’s take an example: Google, search algorithms, PageRank… Boring right? How on earth can you possibly relate with emotion? Just watch ‘Parisian Love’ – a 50-second-long clip about Google’s new features back in 2009 and you will see how ‘easy’ it can be to apply emotion to your marketing messages.


  1. Observability – Everybody knows about Movember, the month where you start to see lots of people you know sporting moustaches…Movember was created with the aim of raising awareness and funds for Men’s Health. It was successful because it’s a talking point for real people, you’re going to notice if half the office start growing moustaches! The idea advertises itself – Just like Apple’s decision to make their headphones white, or Armstrong’s Livestrong armband craze back in 2003. 
  1. Practical Value – Think about why people gravitate towards your idea and highlight that particular value. People share ideas when they think they are useful to others. So do not just highlight technical features, but think about why people find your idea useful.

storytelling in marketing

  1. Stories – Ideas travel more effectively when they are embedded in a story. Kitchen blenders are boring, but check out BlendTec and the way they managed to create a story through their ‘Will it Blend’

In the book, you will find several examples of messages that spread effectively while only possessing one of these qualities. If you ever find yourself interested in making your marketing messages more effective, then Contagious by Mr. Berger is definitely an engaging read.


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