Book Review | Contagious – Why Things Catch On | Jonah Berger

Have you ever wondered why certain marketing campaigns or videos become viral? Creating something that goes viral cannot be guaranteed but as Jonah Berger points out, you can definitely improve your chances with the methodology he lays out in his book, Contagious – Why Things Catch On.

What is that secret sauce you may ask? Jonah calls it ‘STEPPS’, which stands for, Social Currency, Triggers, Emotion, Public, Practical Value and Stories. Each step represents a chapter where Jonah goes in-depth about each and shares data and examples of how each contributes to making something go viral. Now, you do not have to have all of these attributes in your campaign but having the right combination will help make it ‘contagious’.

Before reading this book I was very critical of anyone that tried to sell me a magic potion that would make things viral. If your creative brief states that the objective is to make the campaign go viral, than I’m sorry but it’s going to fail but what’s so great about Jonah’s book is that he provides with you the ‘steps’, pardon the pun, to make a great campaign that has the potential to go viral. He is not offering any guarantees but presents some thought-provoking insights that leave you wanting for more.

Below is a summary of his STEPPS:



Social Currency We share things that make us look good
Triggers Top of mind, tip of tongue
Emotion When we care, we share
Public Built to show, built to grow
Practical Value News you can use
Stories Information travels under the guise of idle chatter

Also here are a few amazing quotes I got from each chapter:

Social Currency:

  • “Social Currency is about information senders and how sharing makes them look.”


  • “By acting as reminders, triggers not only get people talking, they keep them talking.”


  • “Some emotions kindle the fire more than others. As we discussed, activating emotion is the key to transmission. Physiological arousal or activation drives people to talk and share. We need to get people excited or make them laugh. We need to make them angry rather than sad. Even situations where people are active can make them more likely to pass things on to others.”


  • “Making something more observable makes it easier to imitate. Thus a key factor in driving products to catch on is public visibility. If something is built to show, it’s built to grow.”

Practical Value:

  • “People like to pass along practical, useful information. News others can use.”
  • “Offering practical value helps make things contagious.”
  • “People share practically valuable information to help others.”


  • “Stories are an important source of cultural learning that help us make sense of the world.”
  • “In trying to craft contagious content, valuable virality is critical. That means making the idea or desired benefit a key part of the narrative.”
  • “So build a Social Currency – laden, Triggered, Emotional, Public, Practically Valuable Trojan Horse, but don’t forget to hide your message inside. Make sure your desired information is so embedded into the plot that people can’t tell the story without it.”

You need to get this book and keep it by your office desk. This is a reference manual when you are crafting your marketing strategy. Below is a great chart Jonah presents to get you in the right direction.


Things to Consider:

Social Currency Does talking about your product or idea make people look good? Can you find the inner remarkability? Leverage game mechanics? Make people feel like insiders?
Triggers Consider the context. What cues make people think about your product or idea? How can you grow the habitat and make it come to mind more often?
Emotion Focus on feelings. Does talking about your product or idea generate emotion? How can you kindle the fire?
Public Does your product or idea advertise itself? Can people see when others are using it? If not, how can you make the private public? Can you create behavioural residue that sticks around even after people use it?
Practical Value Does talking about your product or idea help people help others? How can you highlight incredible value, packaging your knowledge and expertise into useful information others will want to disseminate?
Stories What is your Trojan Horse? Is your product or idea embedded in a broader narrative that people want to share? Is the story not only viral, but also valuable?


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