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What do advertisers, politicians and charity organizations all have in common? They all have the desire to make their message catch on and spread!

How to achieve this? Of course, advertising comes to mind but there are countless cases of compagnies and organizations that spent millions of dollars on advertising without getting ANY benefits…

SMART advertising is the answer…Advertising alone is not enough, you need SMART advertising that will make your message go viral. Just getting a message out there doesn’t necessarily mean that it is going to catch on. For your message to go viral, you need to get people talking, sharing and imitating.

What you need is Social influence and this is exactly what the author studied extensively for the past 10+ years. Jonah Berger is a marketing teacher at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, at top business school.

Berger’s extensive research on the topic has revealed that there are 6 main factors that help explain social pandemics…1) Social Currency 2) Triggers 3) Emotion 4) Public 5) Practical Value 6) Stories.

The mechanics

The mechanics is pretty straightforward. If you want something to go viral, it must be something that has an impact, and also something that people are eager to talk about or imitate.

Let’s dig deeper into each main factors discovered by the author.

Social Currency

Social currency refers to how good or important something makes you look when you share it with other people. EVERYBODY wants to look bright, prestigious, knowledgeable, etc in the eyes of other people and therefore you are more likely to mention those things that makes you appear so. When you see a women carrying a Louis Vuitton bag, you have to be aware the she is sending a message to everybody : ¨ I have money and I’m high class ¨.  The brand Louis Vuitton has been successful in branding itself as a high luxury items and therefore people FEEL GOOD about showing they are wearing the brand. This is what social currency is all about.

Another good example would be a super exclusive nightclub that is renowned to be SUPER hard to get into. Because of this aura of exclusivity, EVERYBODY wants to be seen inside…If you are seen inside, it means that you are part of the ¨ Cool Kids ¨ and you are a high value person. At the opposite of the spectrum you have nightclubs that are SUPER easy to get into…They even hire promoters to bring ANYBODY in. This marketing strategy is not really smart because it doesn’t give to the customer any social currency. They won’t feel good about getting inside because EVERYBODY can.

The bottom line is that if you want people to talk about your brand, make it that when people associate to it, it raises their social currency. If you do that, they will do the promotion for you because it will make them feel good to talk about it to other people.


Triggers refers to stimuli in the environment that are associated with another thing, and that reminds us of them. To give you an example, peanut butter is often associated with jelly so the mention of the former triggers the thought about the latter.

If you want to product or idea to go viral,  try to make it associate it with triggers that people encounter often. By doing so, you increase your chances that people will think about it often. If you do that, you increase the chances that they will be talked about a lot.

A good example for this is the chocolate bar Kit-Kat. Over the years, they succeeded to associate themselves with coffee breaks. This is a powerful trigger.


It doesn’t matter whether it is a good or a bad emotion; as long as your product evoke highly arousing emotions, chances are high that people will talk about it.

A good example for this is how Susan Boyle first’s audition went viral. This audition triggers a lot of strong emotions in people…It might be that at some point they were bullied in school, it might be that they feel like their appearance is not helping them etc…The bottom line is that this video triggers a lot of powerful emotions and this is why it went viral. People started to talk about it immediately.


This refers to how prevalent something is in the public eye. Obviously, products that are highly public and visible are more likely to be talked about than those that are private. If your product is something private, try to make it public.

A good example is the Movember movement in support of colon cancer. A charity donation is something private, but by encouraging men to grow a moustache in the month of November  makes it easy for other to people to notice that this person support this cause. By doing so, the Movember mouvement made something private public and therefore it has more chances of going viral. The same phenomenon happened with Lance Armstrong’s Livestrong campain…You’ve probably seen those yellow bracelets before…

Practical Value

People like to help others and if your product is useful, chances are high that people will want to recommend it to their friends because it can help them. I see a new video of a useful little gadget on my Facebook wall almost everyday because one of my friend shared it.

If your product has practical value, it will get shared. Just google ¨ clean ears everytime ¨or click HERE for an example.


Look, people enjoy telling and hearing stories..So if you make it that your product is wrapped in a compelling narrative, it is more likely that it will go viral.

If you want good examples for this, Google ¨ Dove Evolution commercial ¨or ¨Parisian Love commercial ¨.

The more you wrap up your product in a shareable (human) story, like the Jared from Subway story for example, the more chances it has of going viral and get talked about a lot…


The author tells us that there are 6 main factors that help explain social pandemics…1) Social Currency 2) Triggers 3) Emotion 4) Public 5) Practical Value 6) Stories. If you want your product or message to go viral, you need these factors.

It is not clear whether you need ALL of them at the same time for something to go viral ( I don’t think so), but probably that the more of these elements that you have, the better.

It is quite a short read but it was entertaining and I recommend it.

Please leave a comment below or let me know any questions you have.  I’d love to hear what you think!

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