Tue, Mar 05, 2013 - Page 12 News List

Book review: CONTAGIOUS: Why Things Catch On

Though replete with engaging case studies on marketing masters such Steve Jobs, Wharton School academic Jonah Berger’s new book discussing how ideas and products go viral is too derivative and too cliched to be genuinely interesting

By Michiko Kakutani  /  NY Times News Service

Contagious is at its most engaging when Berger is looking at specific case studies. He writes that Steve Jobs debated whether the Apple logo on the cover of an open laptop should be right-side up for the user of the computer or right-side up to onlookers, and eventually decided that “observability” to the world was more important and “flipped the logo.” He notes that distinctiveness makes for products that advertise themselves — whether it’s clothing logos (like Nike’s swoosh, Lacoste’s crocodile or Ralph Lauren’s polo player), the distinctive tubular Pringles can or Christian Louboutin’s nail-polish-bright, red-soled shoes.

In another chapter Berger reports that NASA’s Mars Pathfinder project bolstered the sales of Mars candy bars simply by acting “as a trigger that reminded people of the candy,” and that Cheerios gets more word of mouth than Disney World (even though the Magic Kingdom is presumably a more interesting topic) because so many more people eat the cereal every day than go to Disney World. Contrary to conventional wisdom, he says, interesting does not always trump boring.

Contagious is rarely boring, but it’s too derivative and too cliched to be genuinely interesting.

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