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Jonah Berger’s ‘Contagious: Why Things Catch On’ ~ A Review (Sort of)

So why do videos ‘go viral?’ Why does one trend (Greek Yoghurt) become massive, while another such as Russian Kefir not? Why did Rebecca Black drive us crazy with Friday, Friday, Friday yet there is no equivalent for Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday…

Jonah Berger, who teaches marketing at University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business, has a new book out – Contagious: Why Things Catch On.

Viral Marketing – Is it Possible to Engineer?

Contagious: Why Things Catch On - by Jonah Berger, ReviewI haven’t read the book, yet, but it’s on my ‘must read’ list. I did listen to his interview on Marketplace, here. What was most interesting in the interview was his discussion of Rebecca Black’s Friday video and how that actually capitalized on the word, ‘Friday.’ He has a concept of ‘top of mind,’ that things that ‘go viral’ often start with top of mind.

Reviews of Jonah Berger’s ‘Contagious: Why Things Catch On’

Being a good web person, I immediately fired up my Kindle (on my Android phone) and checked him out on Amazon. I read his preview, and was not impressed. The writing was really really plodding; I think he suffers from being an Academic writer, and that is unfortunate. The ideas are interesting if the presentation is not.

Then… the killer negative review. The writer, ‘I am C, not X,’ pans the book. Hates the book. Here’s an excerpt –

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?) has Social Currency — it’s an interesting topic in which most everyone would be interested; and it makes us look interesting in bringing up that we are read on the subject through this “groundbreaking” book (more on this “groundbreaking” claim later). 2) There are Triggers all around us that cue the topic for discussion (you see hipsters all around you and wonder how a lifestyle of skinny-jeans-wearing-gastrointestinal-issues-causing/fixie-rubber-shoe-braking-bike-riding came to be; or maybe how it is that we’ve gone backwards to wearing heavy Beats by Dr. Dre headphones and why these retro audio phones [form factor] are fashionable; or why you see Toms shoes all about as they really are plain and resemble the old cheap kungfu shoes that are dirt cheap and available in any chinatown (but they have a strong cause behind them- hence
Public’ factor)…you get the point — these are just my examples; they weren’t mentioned in the book – although they would have been good stories for Berger to include. 3) People can become emotional about why some things have become contagious – they can be in awe/angry over ideas and triggered to talk about what they have read in this book. 4) The book is “Public” – its cover is bright orange. Eyeballs will be attracted to it; curiosity will be aroused. 5) The topic attempts to explain a phenomenon of which an understanding would undoubtedly prove of great practical value, especially if you have something to sell/spread. Lastly, 6) it contains (attempts to contain) some entertaining stories to hopefully have a place in your memory prevalent enough for you to tell others about this book.

Of Two Minds

So I am very interested in the book, but not sure I’ll actually buy it. Further proof (if any were needed) about how devastating a negative review can be, especially a very well written and well thought out one. Finally, I am more than a bit surprised the Berger doesn’t point out the ‘Rebecca Black Friday’ was seeded – that influential people did some important things to make it ‘go viral.’ It wasn’t just serendipity.

So do you buy (and read) a book because the topic is important, even if the writing isn’t that great. What do you think?

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