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Contagious: the science of luck

Viral. Catching on. Views. Fame.  Every marketer dreams of making that one piece of magic that just auto-propels itself in the atmosphere, gets millions of views, is widely talked about, and brings a Golden Lion home at the prestigious Cannes festival.

But, then comes the gazillion dollar question: How do you get your campaign snowballing, how can we make your movie get a viral twist, how can we make your idea more even infectious? One movie gets trashed without mercy with only a couple of hundreds of views; the other one brings piles of cash, and a lot of fame. Every marketer, every agency, and every brand would gladly give and arm, a leg and a piece of a kidney to get the magic formula to guaranteed viral in a heartbeat.

Comes in Jonah Berger, professor of marketing at Wharton Business School. He wrote a book Contagious: Why Things Catch On,  that packs some real good insights based on more than 10-years of relentless research. Berger for sure is a very patient man. He concludes that for an idea, product or movie to get contagious, infectious or viral, it is not so much a question of luck, but a matter of careful planning, psychological understanding of the audience, and a healthy dose of science.

In one of the most talked about sessions here at SxSW, Berger demonstrates that getting widely spread, requires to look way broader than just at the usual influencers. While influencers certainly help driving the message home, and are primordial in helping you create precious awareness, they do not have that much to do with your campaign going viral. Real contagious content spreads like a wildfire, regardless of who is at the sending end.  Therefore, there is a much better pay off concentrating on the target audience and the message, than on intermediate messengers like influencers.

Berger also puts a lot of focus on the social currency. People only share what will make them look good, funny, ad rem, connected and smart. All the other stuff gets highly appreciated, but not shared. Campaigns should be calibrated to the impact they have on the social currency of the people likely to share the message. Worth of mouth has become a unique way to make impressions, and build a personal brand.  No-one sane will share things that might harm his/her carefully constructed image.

A third trigger is the element of contradictory controversy. The message needs an unexpected outcome. Something that triggers an alarm bell in the brain, something that is not following the highly predictability path that we are already plotting in our brain, Contagious content takes an unexpected side road, and triggers our interest, and makes a long lasting impression.

Look at this ad for Panda cheese. Pandas are always cute, right?  🙂

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