Word-of-Mouth and Referral Marketing Blog

Ah-choo! A Visual Summary Of @j1berger’s Contagious

spreading ideas

Excuse me! *wipes nose*. Jonah Berger’s Contagious is a book about why certain products and ideas are talked about more than others, why some stories and rumors are shared more widely, and what makes online content goes viral.

For your convenience, we’ve created an illustrated summary with illustrations and examples, enjoy!

jonah berger contagious

Ah – Choooo!

Why do some ideas spread quickly and stay relevant far longer than others? Why do some products catch on with little marketing while others fail with million dollar ad budgets?

The answer lies in contagion – how an idea can rapidly spread from person to person like the flu bug in November.

With this cheat sheet, you’re only six STEPPS away from turning your idea or product into something contagious.

  • Social Currency
  • Triggers
  • Emotion
  • Public
  • Practical Value
  • Stories

Social Currency

People are inclined to talk about themselves. Make them look good when they share your product or idea.

There are 3 ways to do this:

Inner Remarkability

Highlight what makes your product extraordinary

Leverage Game Mechanics

Create visible metrics people can use to see where they place in relation to others

Make people feel like insiders

The more difficult something is to obtain the more people assume it’s worth the effort. Leverage scarcity and exclusivity to make products more desireable.

Here’s an example

Successful Kickstarter projects typically utilize all three methods of creating social currency.

Inner Remarkability – They’re fresh new ideas

Leveraging Game Mechanics – They have different tiers of participation

Making People Feel Like Insiders – Project backers have a limited time to participate and are kept in the loop of product development not available to the public.


To sustain sharing over time, your product or idea needs to be constantly on people’s minds.

Find ways to link your product or idea to environmental cues. This makes it likelier that people think of your idea when they encounter the cues.

Context is as important as content. Choose a context that can be triggered by the everyday environments and experiences of your target audience.

Here’s an example

Rebecca Black’s widely shared but not so critically acclaimed teenage pop anthem ’’Friday’’ received a spike in views every, you guessed it, Friday.


Naturally contagious content (e.g adorable babies, kittens, stories of social injustice) evoke emotion.

Emphasize the emotional bits of your idea to get it to spread better

Aim to evoke high arousal emotions like awe, rage excitement, amusement and anxiety.

Avoid low arousal feelings like contentment of sadness.

Here’s an example

’’United Breaks Guitars’’ is a country protest song by Canadian musician Dave Carroll and his band, Sons Of Maxwell. The song tells the true story of how Dave’s $3.500 Taylor guitar was mishandled and wrecked on a United Airlines flight.

Snubbed by customer service representatives and refused compensation, Dave instead found himself with a massive YouTube hit (that, at time of writing, has 14.500.000 views).

Beyond being catchy and hilarious, the song evoked anger and many related to similar vexing situations of being unfairly treated by large corporations which turned the video viral.


People look to others for cues of expected of proper behavior.

Turn choices, actions or opinions that are private into something that can be publically displayed. What can be observed is more easily emulated and more likely to be popular.

Here’s an example

In support of the fight against testicular cancer, men around the world pledge to grow moustaches every November to raise awareness and money. Dubbed ’’Movember’’, private support for a good cause turned into something visible and conversational.

Practical Value

People naturally enjoy helping others. If you can show how your product can improve productivity, health, wealth of relationships, people are more likely to share it under the intention of helping others.

To boost contagiousness through practical sharing, practice these two principles:

  1. Present information in a simple digestible manner. For instance, short videos, infographics or concise lists.
  2. Be specific about your benefits. Narrower content is more likely to get shared because it reminds people more strongly of specific friends or family members.

Here’s an example

Kale is a frilly green relative of cabbage that has surged in popularity in recent years. Touted as a ’’superfood’’ by Whole Living in 2008, the vegetable then exploded in popularity as everyone began talking about how good it was for you.

Kale is now so popular that farmers are struggling to meet demands, one of the world’s major kale seed suppliers says it has run out of every variety of the trendy vegetable. It’s so popular that there are close to 300 children named Kale in America.


People think in narratives, not information. While they’re focused on the story, information comes along for the ride.

The key is to make your message so integral to the story that the story can’t be told without it.

Here’s an example

The tale of the Trojan horse is 3300 years old but the story and much more importantly, the morals and principles behind it, are still widely known and referenced today.

To make an idea catch on, you’ll have to consider how it will be shared, where it will be shared and who will share it, then tailor your message accordingly. Use the six principles in this guide to boost sharing!



Jon Tan

My coffee expenses and my office rental are one and the same.

Terrified of mathematics and carbohydrates.

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