No one has the magic “Make it go viral” recipe.
Including Jonah Berger.
Jonah Berger is a Wharton MBA prof and a disciple of Chip and Dan Heath, the brotherly researching & writing duo that has produced the classics, Made to Stick, Switch and Decisive (which will be reviewed in the Libro 52 Challenge in September).
Berger was a student at Stanford and his mentor was Chip Heath.
And it shows.
Contagious reads like a paint-by-numbers version of Made to Stick.
- Open with an interesting & curious story.
- Pose a question to the reader.
- Introduce some research.
- Throw in some witty banter (in parentheses).
- Draw conclusion.
Wash, rinse, repeat.
The Heath Brothers pull this off perfectly.
Dan Pink does also.
So does Peter Bregman.
Malcolm Gladwell too.
These guys pull it off because they have distinct voices.
They each have a tangible authenticity that draws you in.
Not so much.
At best Contagious seems forced.
At worst it seems contrived.
Berger built Contagious on the foundation of knowledge gained from researching hundreds of the most shared stories from the NY Times. With that treasure trove of background material, it was annoying to read story after story that were ridiculously well-known.
Berger elaborates on why some names become more popular than others, in this case, Olivia and Rosalie. If this sounds familiar, it’s because it was ripped off from Freakonomics, the 2005 book by Stephen Dubner and Steven Levitt. Freakonomics was so wildly popular, there was a movie made on it. And then they wrote a second book (SuperFreakonomics).
Berger yammers on about Blendtec’s Will It Blend? online video series. These came out in 2006 and showcased their blenders destroying iPods, shoes and pool cues.
It went viral 7 years ago.
Plenty has been written on it already.
Berger offers nothing new.
Berger then talks about the viral spread of Hotmail, the free email account from the late 90’s.
He should have asked for permission to plagiarize the entire Hotmail chapter from the book, Viral Loop by Adam Penenberg, which published in 2009. (More on Viral Loop in a moment…)
Contagious recites the ubiquitous story about the guy whose guitar was busted by United Airlines. The guy then launched a music video that was viewed more than 13,000,000 times.
Berger also re-tells the Jared Subway Diet story (first went viral in 2000) and Lance Armstrong’s yellow bracelets (2004). He also tosses in the Susan Boyle story (Why not?) – the unbelievable voice to come from an unlikely source on Britain’s Got Talent.
Further unoriginal thought was displayed in his STEPPS Model (Social Currency, Triggers, Emotion, Public, Practical Value, Stories) to developing viral content. It seemed eerily similar to the Heath Bros’ SUCCESs Model from Made to Stick.
I stumbled upon this quote from Berger’s Fast Company article pitching the author and his book: “I tried to reverse-engineer The Tipping Point, Made to Stick, Predictably Irrational and Freakonomics…. I looked at how their books worked, how the chapter structure worked, and what made each successful.”
It was obvious.
Bottom Line: Don’t read this book. It’s not contagious. If you’re interesting in reading about how things go viral, read Viral Loop. It’s original and thought-provoking. If you haven’t read Made to Stick by the aforemetioned Heath Bros, you should. Follow their plan and your material will be remembered, if not viral.
Bradley Hartmann is El Presidente at Red Angle (www.redanglespanish.com). He’s trying to read 52 books this year. He’s behind…
29. Contagious by Jonah Berger
Categories: Libro 52 Challenge