Word-of-Mouth and Referral Marketing Blog

Monkey See, Monkey Do: 10 Examples of Public Visibility Used in Marketing

The fourth principle from Jonah Berger’s STEPPS model is Public Visibility.

Imagine you are in a restaurant in a foreign country, and you see everyone taking off their shoes before entering.

Chances are, you’d do the same.

Why do we do that? Because we base a lot of our actions on those we see around us. If a lot of people buy something, it has to be pretty good.

So how do you make your brand/product more public-facing?

Here are 10 examples of brands that have gained traction from incorporating public-facing elements in their products/marketing:

1. When you see red soles, you think of Louboutin.

Louboutin Red Soles Public Contagious Jonah Berger ReferralCandy 2
The trademark “china red” color on Louboutin shoes

Christian Louboutin noticed that red nail polish was really eye-catching, and made his soles of his shoes the same color.

Today, those red soles have become a synonymous brand trademark.


2. The iconic Intel jingle is heard every 5 minutes somewhere in the world.

In 1994, composer Walter Werzowa was commissioned by Intel to create a three-second jingle for the Intel Inside TV commercials.

Since then, the five-note “Intel Bong” has been around for more than 20 years.

It is arguably one of the world’s most recognizable sounds.


3. Salting the tip jar – Putting your own tips in to encourage others to follow

Salting the jar Baristas Public Contagious Jonah Berger ReferralCandy

In cafes, some baristas used a technique called “salting the tip jar”, where they place a bit of their own money in the tip jar.

People are more likely to contribute to a jar that has money than an empty one.


4. Hotmail gained one million subscribers in half a year without spending a cent on advertising.

In July 1996, Sabeer Bhatia and Jack Smith started Hotmail, a free email service.

Within their first month, they gained more than 20,000 users.

They hit one million subscribers in less than six months.

This was their secret:

Hotmail default signature Public Contagious Jonah Berger ReferralCandy
Microsoft Hotmail’s default email signature

Hotmail had inserted a one-liner in the default email signature: “Get your free email at Hotmail”.

With a link to sign up included in the message, every email became a free Hotmail advertisement.

The word of mouth element meant that users were more likely to sign up when they saw the message in emails sent by their peers.

“My friends are using it, and it’s free. So why not?”


Today, most emails sent from smartphones contain a default signature that goes like “Sent from my iPhone/Blackberry”:

Default email signature when sent from iPhone
Default email signature when sent from iPhone
Default email signature for Blackberry
Default email signature for Blackberry

These default signatures might not be as effective and viral as Hotmail’s case, but they are still useful.

The more often we see such messages, the more popular we’ll think that product brand is.


5. Apple’s distinctive product features makes them distinguishable from a mile away

White iPod earphones Public Contagious Jonah Berger ReferralCandy

Back when Apple revealed the very first iPod, it was accompanied by a series of commercials.

They featured people in black silhouettes dancing while listening to a iPod and white earphones.

During that time, almost all earphones were black, so Apple’s white earphones became a brand trademark.

Thanks to the non-conformist consumer identity Apple had developed, customers wanted to be seen as part of that identity.

Some would buy white earphones from elsewhere just to follow the trend.

Apple Macbook Pro Public Contagious Jonah Berger ReferralCandy

Even today, Apple continues to set themselves apart in product design.

Their range of laptops come in a beautiful brushed aluminum finish, coupled with the iconic white Apple logo.

This sets them apart from other laptops, which usually come in shiny smooth black or other solid colors.

In entertainment media where laptops are shown, you can almost always spot the distinctive brushed aluminium laptop.

People now associate the brand with cool and stylish, so they won’t be caught dead carrying laptops from other brands.


6. 85 million Livestrong sports bracelets were sold because they were bright yellow

Livestrong yellow bracelet Public Contagious Jonah Berger ReferralCandy

Scott MacEachern from Nike was tasked with promoting Lance Armstrong as a cultural icon.

In addition, he wanted people to support the Armstrong Foundation.

He came up with the idea of a yellow sports band, and it became a huge hit.

Yellow was gender-neutral and stood out against any type of clothing.


7. Branded shopping bags boost social image as well as serve as mobile advertisements.

Branded shopping bags Public Contagious Jonah Berger ReferralCandy

Big brands often produce shopping bags that are of a higher quality.

Customers are encouraged to reuse them because they feel bad throwing them away after just one use.

Some customers also want to be seen associated with an expensive brand.


8. Men walking around with moustaches in November is a great conversation starter.

Movember logo Public Contagious Jonah Berger ReferralCandy
“Changing the face of men’s health”

When November comes, we tend to spot more men sporting moustaches.

They’re raising awareness for a variety of men’s health charities through a campaign called Movember.

Originating in Australia, this campaign has gained a huge follow world-wide, and proven to be very effective.

Moustaches, especially seen on those who do not have the habit of keeping one, can be a great conversation starter.


9. Koreans used the yellow ribbon logo on their profiles to show support for the MV Sewol ferry disaster.

Students at Danwon high school writing messages to the 304 victims of the ferry disaster. Most of them were Danwon high school students.
Students at Danwon high school writing messages to more than 300 victims of the ferry disaster. Most of them were Danwon high school students.

On 16th April 2014, a South-Korean ferry MV Sewol capsized, killing 304 out of 476 people on board.

More than 300 passengers were Danwon High School students.

Soon after, a yellow ribbon campaign was started to help pray for survivors.

Many wrote messages of hope on little yellow ribbons, and stuck them to gates and trees near Danwon High School.

Korea Yellow Ribbon campaign logo Public Contagious Jonah Berger ReferralCandy
The Yellow Ribbon Campaign logo

The campaign also took off online, where many were seen sharing yellow ribbon illustrations on social media and messaging platforms.

Several local celebrities also joined in by putting up the yellow ribbon images as their profile pictures.

Donations to the National Disaster Relief Association were also encouraged.

Park Shin Hye Korean actress Yellow Ribbon Campaign Public Contagious Jonah Berger ReferralCandy
South Korean actress Park Shin Hye’s Twitter profile picture.

The yellow ribbon has been used worldwide as a universal pledge of hope and support for victims in tragedies.

People willingly swapped out their display pictures because they wanted to show support for a cause they felt strongly for.


10. Oreo engaged fans worldwide with the age-old question: Cookie or Creme?

Cookie, or creme?
Cookie, or creme?

In February 2013, Oreo launched a two-month campaign on Instagram titled: Cookie vs Creme.

Fans were asked to take a side by attaching photos with either a #cookiethis or #cremethis hashtag.

Selected photos were translated into actual sculptures using either cookies or creme from real Oreos.

Oreo cookie vs creme campaign 2 Public Contagious Jonah Berger ReferralCandy

Accompanied by a “Whisper fight” commercial, the campaign boosted Oreo’s Instagram follower-count from 2,200 to 53,000 in a matter of days.

It worked for several reasons:

  1. Fans got to vote publicly for what they like, so their peers would know about it.
  2. They would tell their friends about it, and it’ll spread through word-of-mouth.
  3. A chance for their beloved photos to be transformed into edible works of art.
  4. They could then display that pic on their social media profile for some sweet social currency.

Competitions and voting campaigns are great because your customers get involved, and their engagements are public-facing.


Your customers will adopt your brand better if they associate it with their core identity.

For the examples above, customers didn’t imitate others for the sake of it.

They followed it because it meant something to that. It appealed to their identity.

Wearing Louboustin is classy, owning an Apple product identifies you as cool, and sporting a moustache means you care about men’s health issues.

At this point, it is important to know your brand’s identity, and communicate that through public-facing elements.

The more people can relate to your brand identity, the more likely they’ll think it’s worth imitating.

After all, no one would follow and buy a Macbook if they didn’t think Mac users were cool.


Professor Jonah Berger has spent a decade investigating what makes things go viral. This is part of a series of his research into the 6 principles of virality (STEPPS):

Contagious: Jonah Berger's 6 STEPPS to Viral Marketing
  1. Social Currency – We share to look good in front of others.
  2. Triggers – We share what’s at the top of our minds.
  3. Emotion – We share what we care about.
  4. Public – We imitate what we see people around us doing. [You are here!]
  5. Practical value – We share what has value to others.
  6. Stories – We share stories, not information.
Samuel Hum

Samuel Hum

As a finalist in Esquire's Best Dressed Real Man contest, Samuel is ReferralCandy's fashion eCommerce expert and resident sartorialist. He is obsessed with human behavior, social psychology, and handstands. He is also the lead calisthenics trainer at Weightless.

1 comment

  • Love these examples, can’t wait to read more! But it would have been polite to mention the author of the principles you mention in the conclusion – Jonah Berger, who describes them in the book Contagious – Why Things Catch On