“Contagious: Why Things Catch On” by Johah Berger

Discussion questions and links:


First, some links in case you want to watch some of the viral clips discussed in the book.

Panda Cheese Commericals: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XYz3sl0LEA4

Dove’s “Evolution”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iYhCn0jf46U

Blendtec’s “Will it Blend (marbles)”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3OmpnfL5PCw

Ken Craig’s “Clean Ears Everytime”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RzYtMeIFH8o

Google’s “Parisian Love”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nnsSUqgkDwU

Now the discussion questions:


What makes products and ideas catch on and become popular? Why do some stories get shared more than others? Why are some rumors infectious? What makes things “go viral”? In Contagious, Jonah Berger shares the secret science behind social transmission. Why we talk about and share some things rather than others. Why we pass things on. Filled with engaging stories and comprehensive research Contagious is an essential tool for anyone that wants to make their product or idea spread.

Topics & Questions for Discussion

1)  Consider and discuss the most recent email forward you received. It might have been a news article, video, or story. What aspects of the STEPPS framework did it adhere to? Do the same analysis for the last viral video you watched, hot restaurant you tried, hit movie you saw, etc. Which concepts in the framework apply?

2)  Which examples that Berger mentioned (e.g., Blendtec, Dove’s Evolution, white iPhone earbuds) had you been aware of before the book? Trace how these cultural touchstones came to you.

3)  Discuss and analyze something you do using the lens of game mechanics. What makes that game, club, website, community, or activity so engaging? Consider each of the STEPPS. What keeps you hooked? Also, why do we value achievement so much? Where is an area you’ve noticed yourself being motivated by it?

4)  Can mundane things (like a blender) really diffuse through public consciousness as quickly as remarkable things can? Does sensationalism or novelty (inherent remarkability) carry an advantage, even when STEPPS are considered?

5)  What is an example where you’ve noticed yourself being motivated by scarcity? New high tech devices (new phones, gadgets, etc.) are frequently scarce when they are released. Does possession of these products carry social currency? Does their frequent release (a veritable flooding of the market) make them less scarce?

6)  Would you brave the phone lines to enter Please Don’t Tell? What about its seclusion appeals to you? Is there also something that turns you off to the fight for a seat?

7)  Compare an instance of ongoing and immediate word of mouth. Is one more powerful than the other?

8)  Without thinking too hard, what is currently top of mind for you? Can you identify triggers is your own life that bring things to mind? For example, whenever I see or hear __________ I think about ____________.

9)  Like the Mars Bar and Rebecca Black’s Friday, discuss products or campaigns that have “natural” triggers. Does having a pre-existing “habitat” increase likelihood of sharing? Of purchase?

10)  Discuss high-arousal versus low-arousal emotions. What are some examples of each that you’ve noticed in your own lives? Is it strange that “contentment” (which so many people strive for in every day life) elicits little arousal? Have you ever shared something sad?

11) Privacy is a paramount concern in today’s information-driven digital era. How does this fit with the idea of making the private public? (Consider Movember, Hotmail, and the Facebook generation.). When do we want our choices and opinions to be public versus private? Where are the lines drawn between open and closed information?

12) Watch Tim Piper/Dove’s Evolution video (included above). Discuss the idea of Trojan Horses and how emotion is coded into the narrative of ideas.

13)  Which aspect of STEPPS do you think is most affective? Compare Berger’s various examples of Social Currency, Triggers, Emotions, Public, Practical Value, and Stories. Is one of these characteristics most important for driving sharing? Is there a specific combination that makes one thing more appealing than another?

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