Q&A with Jonah Berger (and a chance to win a copy of his new book Contagious!)

jonah berger contagious

In February, Wharton Marketing Professor Dr. Jonah Berger joined Brains on Fire for the 2013 F.I.R.E. Session.

Along with advance copies of his new book Contagious, Jonah shared his insights on what makes things go viral. If you’ve ever wondered why some things catch on, this was the presentation to demystify the mystery. Jonah’s talk was packed with interesting tidbits, including insights on “triggers,” the things that are linked in our mind. Just like “peanut butter is a mini-advertisement for jelly” and it’s hard to think “rum” without “coke,” triggers play a role in marketing, too. (If you’ve ever found yourself tempted to Facebook Rebecca Black’s “Friday” on a Friday, thank triggers!) Another key point from the talk focused on the role emotion plays in sharing. Different emotions influence how and when we share something. Sadness inspires less sharing, while anger and outrage inspire people to share by harnessing their desire to take action in the heat of the moment. Last but not least, Jonah explored storytelling. His advice was pretty simple: sneak your message into a story. (Great example: Dumb Ways to Die.)” [Read the full F.I.R.E. Session recap here.]

Contagious has received rave reviews from bookworms and inquiring minds around The Firesphere. I had firsthand experience with the concept of “contagiousness” during a recent trip to Ohio. The book’s bright orange cover prompted at least six strangers to stop me in the airport (one even snapped a photo!) and inquire about what I was reading.

Last week Robbin sat down with Jonah last week to ask him a few questions…

Robbin Phillips: In Contagious, you talk about the six ingredients that cause things to be talked about or shared: Social Currency, Triggers, Emotion, Public, Practical Value and Stories (the STEPPS). Which of the STEPPS fascinates you the most? If you weren’t a professor, and you could choose to be leading expert in one of the STEPPS, which would you choose?

Jonah Berger: Social Currency often has the most fun examples. Hidden bars, secret menus or $100 cheesesteaks. It’s also one of the most fundamental human motives. While it’s hard to see it in ourselves, it’s easy to see in others. People care about what others think about them. We want to look smart rather than dumb, cool rather than behind the times. And we talk about things that make us look that way. Being an expert in how to look cool to others would definitely be a fun job.

RP: What do you love most about your work and why?

JB: Getting the chance to put science to things I see in the world around me. People often wonder why a certain product became popular, why a particular baby name caught on, or why certain things go viral. My job is to study that; to try and understand the inner workings of the human mind. It’s like peering into the brain with a magnifying glass. It’s an awesome job!

RP: What or who inspires you and why?

JB: Passionate people. I’m always inspired by people who love what they do, working towards something they believe in and putting their all into it.

GOOD THINGS COME TO THOSE WHO SCROLL: Hello, reader. You made it to the end of the blog post. As a reward, you now have a chance to win a copy of Contagious for your bookshelf. Leave a comment below sharing a story about the last time a brand made YOU feel really good.

On Friday we’ll announce five lucky winners selected to receive a free copy of Jonah’s book.


amy Amy Taylor is the Lead Copywriter + a Community Manager at Brains on Fire. Meet her here.

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