Jonah Berger’s Contagious Is Just That

Last month I wrote a blog article about how I adopted the e-reader app on my phone pretty late in the game and have actually read a few books, which is a complete conundrum in my current situation, where I find little personal time for much of anything.  So, getting myself back into reading a complete book whether it’s a novel or in my case a business or self-help book has been a complete challenge.  This all started when I forced myself to read ReWork by Jason Fried.  And since then I have read Venture Deals by Brad Feld and 10% Happier by Dan Harris.  But this past week I finally finished up Contagious: Why Things Catch On by Jonah Berger, and quite frankly I have not read a book like this in a few years.  I have recommended Contagious to a dozen people developing a strategy for marketing their new Internet start-up.  The last time I had read a book like this was “Don’t Make Me Think“.  For years I moved and carried Don’t Make Me Think because it had so much practical value information in it you could put to use immediately.  If you have read it, you know why.

Why Is Contagious So Sharable?

Contagious explains very succinctly why people share stuff.  It uses example after example of why people pass on a Tweet or Youtube Video or why they suddenly desire a Mars Bar during the Mars Rover landing.  It puts together an understanding of human motivation that gives marketers a path towards making something big happen with a small ad budget.  It does not say how to do it, but what makes sense and what will work (if you can accomplish the task).

So, like Jonah Berger implies in his book, Contagious is a book of practical value when trying to figure out a way, particularly a guerrilla marketing approach to promoting something.    And some of the information in the book I have already shared probably with about 30 people over the past 30 days.  I guess I am a bit of a cheerleader when something is quite revealing like this book.  For instance, the book really gives a theoretical understanding of online sharing, what many business people know exists, understand the value, but don’t really understand the reasons why things are shared.  And not understanding the reasons and how Social Currency really works, many companies will miss the boat on this concept.  Berger gets to the heart of why a specific campaign works, why something is shared and how to change and improve upon something you want shared.


Years ago in high school we had a short class on propaganda and all the reasons why and how it works.  I think I covered this again in my MBA marketing class.  It is the standard, easy to understand, concepts like Joining The Bandwagon, or creating subliminal messaging.  It’s your typical autocratic, fascist government techniques, quite often applied in marketing.  It’s that Mad Men kind of stuff that we know exists in every ad, and we just take it for granted.  That is the world of advertising that is relatively straight forward, though having a class or two will give you an idea of the basic propaganda techniques so you too can become Jim Jones.  What Berger has explained in his book is that long before there was the Internet, Email, Twitter, Facebook and any other way we can share, buzz, text, update status, and contribute there were underlying principals a few marketers figured out (mostly by accident).  The concepts of sharing are end results marketers want, but to create that viral spark really requires sophistication that I could only guess at.  Some people got lucky over the years and he shows many examples in the book of what works and what did not work.

Sharing Is Actually Old School

So, what I finally realized as I finished reading this book is that the sharing principals Berger has written about are concepts that have been around since the dawn of man.  Humans have always told stories and always shared, but obviously not online at first.  We would share a story about something amazing with our friends.  We could talk in person, call on the phone, even write a physical letter.  This is nothing new, just when you put it in context with online sharing, it becomes more of a science, especially when, in Contagious, they do real research on things like why articles are the most emailed articles on The New York Times.  The results are quite surprising, though completely logical.

The Physiological

I am not going to spoil it and give you the complete Cliff Notes of Contagious, you need to go and read it yourself if you are in online marketing or interested in marketing.  What I found the most interesting aspect of Berger’s studies is that there was a physical or what he calls a physiological change in people who share things.  They are most compelled when they get goose bumps (my description) or feel a physical change based on what they have heard, and are compelled to share something.  It can be awe, laughter, crying or something like this.  This physical piece is critical to finding an answer to why people share.  Let me know if you read this book and if you have any thoughts about it.