How to Make Ideas Viral and Products Contagious: A Talk by Jonah Berger

Written by Michael Riley
Jonah Berger gave a great talk on how to make products and ideas spread virally.  He is a professor of marketing at Wharton, and author of the NYT #1 bestselling book "Contagious: Why Things Catch on". The core ideas laid out in the book follow 6 easy to follow "STEPPS":

Social Currency




Practical Value


In the talk he told some great stories from his research and explained how to make content go viral.


Word of mouth is 10X more influential than traditional advertising

So how do you get more people talking about your product?  That's easier said than done, but Jonah has spent the last ten years researching what makes it happen.  He has a built up wealth of knowledge on how to take advantage of human psychology.


Social Currency

To get more social currency it helps to make people feel like they are privy to inside information that no one else knows.  This info has social value and people naturally want to show off their value to others.  One of his examples was the Please Don't Tell bar in NYC.  The bar has no sign and the entrance is hidden in a phone booth inside a hot dog restaurant.  But it's become wildly successful because it's such a cool secret.  Everyone wants to share it!

Another example story was the McRib sandwich.  McDonald's has turned this processed pork product into a huge success simply by making its availability limited.  Entire websites have been made to keep track of where you can buy one of these sandwiches at any given time.  It gives people something to talk about and share when they hear it's available in their area.

The key is to find the inner remarkability of a product.  Everything has something surprising, novel or interesting about it.



A product it needs to be on your mind to think about it.  Tip-of-mind equals tip-of-tongue.  It really helps to have people associate your product with everyday occurrences and experiences.  Like how you think of Corona whenever you think of the beach.  Or when you think about peanut butter, then jelly comes to mind.  If you can associate your product with some regular occurrence in daily life then you can use that as an easy trigger to bring a product to mind.



Stories work much better than facts for getting people to pay attention and remember a message.  The Subway commercials with Jared are a great example.  Instead of marketing the nutritional details of their sandwiches they simply told Jared's story of losing a huge amount of weight by eating Subway sandwiches every day.  A good story can be an effective trojan horse for your message.


What to do next?

Here's the actionable steps Jonah gave us to get started on making a product go viral through word of mouth.

1. Find your message.

2. Apply the STEPPS to your product.

3. Fill out the workbook here: