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Why Things Catch on

By Jonah Berger
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Contagious by Jonah Berger

Contagious (2013) examines what makes a product, idea or behavior more likely to be shared among many people. The book explores the question of whether contagious things are accidents or the results of good marketing, or whether contagiousness is an inherent feature of a product, idea or behavior. It argues that, far from being merely a matter of luck, the majority of very popular products and ideas are the result of a combination of savvy planning and execution.


Key idea 1 of 9

Contagious ideas or products can propel a company to success – and they’re often the result of smart planning.

What is it that makes some products, behaviors and ideas shared all over the world and seen by many millions of people? Is the product just naturally shareable? Is it simply a matter of luck? Does it all come down to good marketing?

While certain products seem destined to capture the attention of the public, their popularity is often the result of intentional design and smart planning. 

Take, for example, the Barclay Prime steakhouse in Philadelphia, the popularity of which increased dramatically due to a single attention-grabbing item on the menu: a $100 cheesesteak made with Kobe beef, lobster tail and black truffles and served with champagne. 

The restaurant’s owner, Howard Wein, had put a lot of time and money into creating a great restaurant atmosphere, but he created the $100 cheesesteak solely to generate buzz for Barclay Prime when it opened in 2004.

More than just an item on the menu, the $100 cheesesteak became a contagious product. The national media wrote about it, celebrities ate it and, in Philadelphia, where the cheesesteak is a popular fast-food choice, eating a $100 cheesesteak was an experience most people in the city simply couldn’t pass up. And once they tried it, they had to tell people about it. 

So, even though Wein invested heavily in creating an excellent dining experience and atmosphere, it was this one contagious idea that propelled Barclay Prime to success – despite the high probability of failure in the restaurant business and the competition of the numerous other steakhouses in the city.

Most of us can easily name a number of ideas and products that rapidly caught on among a large number of people. But how do companies actually create a contagious product?

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