Marketing Academy


Written by: Jonah Berger
Published: March 5, 2013
Jonah Berger

Delving into ""Contagious: Why Things Catch On,"" I'm reminded of the sheer power and subtlety of word-of-mouth in driving the success of products, services, and ideas. Jonah Berger, with his incisive understanding of social dynamics, provides a compelling roadmap for making ideas resonate and spread. The book is not just an exploration of viral phenomena; it's a toolkit for anyone aspiring to make their mark in a world cluttered with information.

At the heart of Berger's argument are six fundamental principles that make things contagious: Social Currency, Triggers, Emotion, Public, Practical Value, and Stories. These principles are not isolated concepts; they interweave to form a comprehensive understanding of how and why we share information.

Social Currency

The concept of Social Currency revolves around the idea that people share things that make them look good to others. This could be insider knowledge, a unique experience, or a novel product. In the realm of business, creating products or ideas that give people a sense of status or insider knowledge encourages sharing. It’s about crafting messages or products that elevate the sharer’s social standing.


Triggers are about the environmental reminders that prompt people to think and talk about related products or ideas. A classic example is how the mere mention of peanut butter can make one think of jelly. Effective marketing creates triggers in the everyday environment that keep the product or idea top of mind. This principle is particularly powerful because it leverages the existing habits and surroundings of the audience to drive word-of-mouth.


Emotion is a crucial driver of sharing. Berger highlights that content that evokes high-arousal emotions like awe, excitement, or amusement is more likely to be shared. The key insight here is that it's not just content that makes us feel good that gets shared; it's content that makes us feel something strongly. This has significant implications for crafting marketing messages or content strategies – the more emotionally compelling, the more shareable.


The principle of Public is about making things observable and imitable. People tend to imitate what they see others doing. The more public a product or idea is, the more likely it is to be talked about and adopted. This is where the concept of social proof intertwines with visibility. In marketing, this translates into strategies that increase the public visibility of a product, like distinctive packaging or prominent logos.

Practical Value

Practical Value is about sharing things that are helpful or beneficial. People love to share tips, hacks, and deals. If your product or idea can save time, money, or improve someone's life, it’s more likely to be shared. This principle underlines the importance of creating real, tangible value in your offerings. It’s not just about the novelty; it’s about usefulness.


Finally, Stories are the vessel that carries all these elements. Narratives or stories that incorporate products or ideas in a natural and engaging way are more likely to be shared. It’s about embedding your product or idea within stories that people want to tell. This principle underscores the power of storytelling in making ideas stick and spread.

“Contagious” is more than a book; it's a strategic guide for anyone looking to make their idea or product not just noticed, but remembered and shared. Berger’s principles are backed by rigorous research, yet presented in a manner that’s both accessible and engaging. In applying these principles, I’ve seen how they transform marketing strategies from mundane to magnetic.

The book compels us to look beyond traditional advertising and delve into the psychological and social underpinnings of what makes content go viral. It’s a reminder that in the digital age, the power of word-of-mouth is amplified beyond the confines of physical interaction, making it a pivotal tool for marketers and entrepreneurs alike.

In essence, ""Contagious: Why Things Catch On"" provides a blueprint for generating a buzz that’s both organic and powerful. It’s a must-read for anyone seeking to understand the dynamics of viral marketing in today’s fast-paced and interconnected world.

5 Marketing Growth Takeaways

1. Maximizing Social Currency for Brand Engagement

One of the most impactful takeaways from ""Contagious"" is the concept of Social Currency. This idea revolves around making your brand or product a topic of conversation by providing unique, shareable experiences or insider knowledge. In practice, this means creating marketing campaigns or products that give people a reason to talk about your brand, enhancing their own social standing. For instance, exclusive offers, sneak peeks, or innovative features can make your customers feel like insiders, which in turn motivates them to share their experiences with others.

2. Creating Effective Triggers in Everyday Life

Triggers are environmental cues that can remind people of your product or service. A clever takeaway from ""Contagious"" is to link your product to common, everyday experiences. For example, a coffee brand might associate itself with morning routines or work breaks, embedding itself in daily habits. This strategy ensures that your product comes to mind more often, increasing the likelihood of it being discussed and chosen over competitors.

3. Harnessing Emotion to Drive Shares and Engagement

Emotion is a powerful driver of virality. Berger’s analysis underscores the importance of creating content that evokes strong emotions – be it joy, awe, or even anger. In practice, this means crafting stories or ads that resonate emotionally with your audience. Emotional content is more likely to be shared, extending the reach of your message and enhancing the connection with your brand.

4. Utilizing Public Visibility to Encourage Imitation

The Public principle is about making your product or idea more visible to encourage imitation. This could involve strategies like creating a distinct visual identity or using public figures as brand ambassadors. The key is to make the usage of your product as observable as possible, encouraging others to follow suit. Think of it as leveraging the 'see and want' phenomenon, where visibility drives demand.

5. Embedding Practical Value in Your Messaging

Practical Value is about offering useful information or tips that people can share with others. This takeaway emphasizes creating content or products that not only solve problems but are also share-worthy. For instance, an app that simplifies a complex task, or a guide that provides valuable industry insights. When people find practical value in what you offer, they’re more likely to pass it on, amplifying your message organically.

Fast-track Growth Tactic

Implementing a Viral Referral Program

A powerful fast-track growth tactic inspired by ""Contagious"" is the creation of a viral referral program. This program should incentivize existing customers to share your product or service with their network. The key here is to offer rewards that provide social currency, making sharing a status-enhancing act for your customers. For example, offering exclusive access, discounts, or a unique feature for every successful referral not only motivates your existing customers to share but also draws in new customers through word-of-mouth. This tactic leverages both the Social Currency and Practical Value principles, encouraging rapid and wide-spread sharing of your brand.

Long-Term Growth Strategy

Developing Story-Driven Content Marketing

For a sustainable long-term growth strategy, focus on developing a story-driven content marketing approach. This strategy involves creating and disseminating content that not only informs or entertains but also embeds your product or service within compelling narratives. Stories have a unique way of engaging audiences emotionally and are more likely to be shared. The content could be in the form of blog posts, videos, podcasts, or social media campaigns that tell stories related to your brand, highlighting customer experiences or the impact of your product. By consistently providing emotionally engaging and valuable content, you build a loyal audience base that not only returns but also shares your content, creating a virtuous cycle of engagement and growth.

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